The U.S. Senate has approved and sent to President Bush a bill that would allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The president opposes the measure on moral grounds, and is expected to veto it as early as Wednesday.
The Senate passed the legislation on a 63 to 37 vote, with broad bipartisan support.
Supporters say such research is key to medical advances, and that only donated embryos that would otherwise be thrown away would be used.
"There are some 400,000 frozen embryos, and the choice is discarding them or using them to save lives. Embryonic stem cells have the flexibility for the potential of curing Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer," said Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican.
But opponents, mostly those who make up the conservative base of the Republican party, argue such research amounts to taking human life because embryos are destroyed in the process.
Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, wants donated embryos to be adopted by infertile couples.
"We have a lot of frozen embryos and we are saying "let's make some utility out of them". Isn't that against human dignity to say 'let's research on this,' when this could be this child?," he said.
President Bush also opposes such research and says he will veto the measure. It would be his first veto since he came to the White House more than five years ago.
Supporters of the measure are urging the president to think twice before taking such action, noting that a majority of Americans support embryonic stem cell research.
"I would suggest to the President, do not kill this bill," said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.
Senator Specter noted that Nancy Reagan, widow of former President Ronald Reagan, who died of Alzheimer's disease, has been seeking support for the legislation from fellow Republicans. He said she may try to dissuade President Bush from using his veto.
Supporters of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate acknowledge they do not have the two-thirds majority of their chambers to override a veto. The House passed the measure last year.
Members of the Republican majority in the Senate are concerned about the political impact a presidential veto could have on their reelection chances in November. So they offered two other stem-cell related bills that President Bush has signaled he could sign: one would encourage study on stem cells derived from sources other than embryos and the other would ban the production of embryos solely for stem cell harvest. The Senate passed both, and the House is expected to give swift approval before sending them to the president.