Prioritizing Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

September 2010

Last month, Congresswoman Diana DeGette said she was certain the issue of embryonic stem-cell research would become a top priority in Congress. Now, the Denver Democrat's prediction seems right on target, as U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat, began a push in the Senate to legalize federal funding for the controversial research, which could be helpful in finding cures for many diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, liver failure, and sickle-cell anemia, notes The Associated Press. The legislation, which mirrors the measure that DeGette and Delaware Republican Mike Castle have put forth in the House, would legalize a year-old executive order issued by President Barack Obama that supports stem-cell research.

Although the legislative calendar is packed and midterm elections are around the corner, the issue has "suddenly risen to the top of Congress' pre-election to-do list," writes The Denver Post, adding that a vote could come before the October 8 recess.

A recent ruling by a federal judge makes the issue of legalizing embryonic stem-cell research what DeGette calls an "emergency situation" that could prevent the use of tens of millions of dollars in research approved since Obama reversed President George W. Bush's prohibition of such research. The New Yorker recently looked at the ruling—as well as the history of stem-cell science and politics—from the point of view of Francis Collins, the evangelical director of the National Institutes of Health. The magazine also quoted DeGette on her predictions of how the issue could play out in the midterms.

"Most of the Democratic freshmen, who are in vulnerable seats, are supportive of this legislation," she said. "In fact, a lot of them are running against anti-stem-cell Republicans, so they actually think it might help them in their re-election, just as it helped a lot of Democrats in 2006."

Or maybe not. Castle, DeGette's moderate GOP partner on the issue, was defeated yesterday in his bid to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware by tea partier Christine O'Donnell (via The Christian Science Monitor).

Vanessa Martinez contributed to this post.