President Bush has vetoed legislation to ease limits on federally funded research using stem cells from human embryos. It is the first time Mr. Bush has rejected a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.
The bill has the support of a majority of the members of Congress. But the president says it is morally wrong. "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it," he said.
Speaking in a room packed with opponents of embryonic stem cell research, the president said it is possible to advance the cause of science while respecting the dignity of human life. "I believe that with the right techniques and the right policies, we can achieve scientific progress while living up to our ethical responsibilities," he said.
It is a highly emotional issue. Scientists say embryonic stem cell research could provide treatments or cures for diseases ranging from diabetes to dementia. They say these unique cells, which are undefined and can develop into all sorts of adult cells with specific functions, could help save or improve the lives of untold numbers of sick and injured people.
Stem cells are extracted from extra embryos created in the course of fertility treatments. In the process of harvesting these cells, the embryos are destroyed. President Bush says that destroying human life is wrong, even in its earliest form, and that is the basis for his veto. "As science brings us ever closer to unlocking the secrets of human biology, it also offers temptations to manipulate human life and violate human dignity. Our conscience and history demand we resist this temptation," he said.
In 2001, President Bush issued an order saying federally funded research using stem cells already removed from embryos could proceed, but no further embryos would be destroyed.
The bill just approved by Congress lifts that restriction and expands the amount of research eligible for federal funding.
It passed with broad, bi-partisan support, but well short of the two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress needed to override a presidential veto.
All the same, supporters of the measure say they will not give up. Among them is the newest member of the Senate, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez. His elderly mother suffers from Alzheimer's Disease, which erodes memory and thought processes. "My mom is not famous. She doesn't get to hold press conferences. But she certainly deserves, in the twilight of her life, to live it out with dignity. And the opportunity for stem cell research could provide that opportunity for her and for millions of others who have a long good-bye with the disease of Alzheimer's," he said.
Former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer's two years ago. His widow, Nancy Reagan, personally contacted members of the Senate to urge support for expanded embryonic stem cell research. However, White House officials say she did not call President Bush about his decision to veto the necessary legislation.