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Stem-cell bill OKd, but it could fall short

Janet Babin Jan 11, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: The House of Representatives passed a bill today that didn’t have a specific dollar amount attached to it, but that was loaded all the same. The vote was 253 to 174 to let federal money be used for stem-cell research. Don’t know if you can do the math in your head that fast, but Democrats fell short of a veto-proof majority. And the President did reject an identical bill just last year.

Janet Babin’s been following the story from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio. Hi, Janet, how are you?

JANET BABIN: Hey, Kai, how you doing?

RYSSDAL: I’m alright, thanks. Listen, the Congress has tried this before. They did it last year, when the Republicans were in charge. They did it this year now that the Democrats are in charge. The President vetoed it last year. He said he’s going to again. Why did they try this particular bill one more time?

BABIN: Well you know, Kai, a lot of recent polls show that a majority of Americans — in some cases 70 percent — want the federal government to fund embryonic stem-cell research. Also, the Democrats really believe that this issue was in large part responsible for returning them to a majority in the House and the Senate back during the midterm elections in November. So they made this a top priority. They made it the third item on their agenda of the first 100 hours of legislation.

RYSSDAL: To be completely clear, it’s not like this is without moral objection.

BABIN: That’s true. It’s a touchy subject, because some people believe, President Bush included, that extracting embryonic stem cells destroys the embryo, therefore destroys human life, and they believe that that’s morally wrong.

RYSSDAL: Do you think, Janet, that this might mean since there won’t be action on the federal level, that the states might take over now?

BABIN: I do, Kai, and in large part that’s already happened. Because there is embryonic stem-cell research happening in this country. It’s just not in large part being funded by federal research because that is restricted to only 21 lines of embryonic stem cells that were created and in existence before 2001. What we’re seeing happening is states like California, New Jersey and others have allocated their own state funding to try to keep researchers and scientists working on this issue.

RYSSDAL: Stem cells are, Janet, a business opportunity. And if those businesses can’t get it going here in the United States, do you think, internationally — in the U.K. and some other countries — they’re gonna see that opportunity and jump right in?

BABIN: Well, we’ve already seen that, Kai. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the CEO of an Atlanta biotech company — it’s called Serologicals — he announced that he’d be moving to Edinborough, Scotland, to head up a company called Stem Cell Sciences over there. And we’re seeing a number of talented administrators and researchers — they’re leaving to find a more friendly environment. And I spoke to Dr. John Gearhart, he’s at Johns Hopkins, and he told me that it’s almost psychological. You know, young scientists feel that their research on embryonic stem cells is perhaps frowned upon. So, they feel more comfortable going overseas where they’re welcomed. I mean, other countries are taking advantage of this and they’re really expanding their embryonic-stem-cell research.

RYSSDAL: Janet Babin from the Marketplace Innovations Desk down at North Carolina Public Radio. Janet, thanks a lot.

BABIN: Thank you, Kai.

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