Reacting to court ruling on stem cells, Rep. DeGette pushes bill to fund embryo-destroying research

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)


Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) claims to have wide support for proposed legislation to permit government funding for embryo-killing research and expects to pass it this month. Pro-life advocates, the U.S. Catholic bishops and a majority of likely voters have opposed such funding.

An Aug. 23 decision held that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bars the funding of research which destroys or discards human embryos. While some have depicted the ruling as a ban on the research, the decision only restricts federal funding.

DeGette’s bill is now “on the table” for quick action, a House Democratic leadership aide told Politico. DeGette has worked with Democratic leaders who want to ensure her bill does not raise objections from pro-life Democrats.

The bill’s 51 co-sponsors include two Republicans, Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Both are running for the U.S. Senate.

“Embryos and stem cells are two entirely different organisms,” DeGette claimed, saying they involve different types of research.

“This is a positive wedge issue. Supporters can use it in an election because there is strong public support and its opponents look extreme,” the congresswoman said, according to Politico.

However, a Rasmussen Poll report released last week found that 57 percent of likely voters were opposed to federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and only 33 percent supported it.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) praised the federal court ruling which prohibited the funding, saying it vindicated the USCCB’s longstanding interpretation of the law.

“Each year since 1996, Congress has approved the Dickey amendment to forbid funding any 'research in which' human embryos are harmed or destroyed,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo explained last week. “This should ensure that taxpayers are not forced to fund a research project when pursuing that project requires the destruction of human life at its earliest stage.” 

“A task of good government is to use its funding power to direct resources where they will best serve and respect human life, not to find new ways to evade this responsibility,” the prelate underscored, expressing hope the court decision will encourage more government commitment to “ethically sound avenues of stem cell research.”

Rep. DeGette has previously criticized Catholic commentary on bioethical issues.

In her 2008 book “Sex, Science, and Stem Cells” she described as a “downhill” move the appointment of Catholic ethicist Edmund Pellegrino to head the President’s Council on Bioethics. Discussing public debate on sexuality and reproduction, she lamented “the many tentacles of the Catholic Church, trying to influence a dialogue that’s already difficult to begin with.”

Her bill to codify in law President Barack Obama’s executive order allowing ESCR funding was low on the Senate’s priorities until the recent court ruling, Politico reports.

In July the congresswoman met with many politically vulnerable first-term Democrats to gauge support for her proposal. She reported the “vast majority” saw it as a political advantage.

In 2006 and 2007 Congress passed legislation to permit ESCR funding but President George W. Bush vetoed each bill. The July 2007 vote was 247 to 176, with 37 Republicans voting to override and 16 Democrats opposed. The Senate passed the bill 63 to 34.

Last week Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, set a Sept. 16 hearing date to review the federal court ruling.

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