Lawmakers Debate Action On Stem Cell Research, Public Health Bills

Sen. Arlen Specter said at a Senate hearing Thursday that Congress should move on allowing the government to fund human embryonic stem cell research "to avoid giving a final say on the issue to a conservative Supreme Court," The Associated Press reports. At the hearing, "scientists also expressed concern about recent court rulings that have disrupted funding for embryonic stem cell research, seen as offering promising potential for treating Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and numerous other debilitating illnesses." Specter has battled Hodgkin's disease. Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, issued his support for such a move.

"The National Institutes of Health has already spent more than $500 million on this research, proceeding with federal funding since President George W. Bush in 2001 allowed restricted federal assistance. But last month U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction in which he stated that the research violated a 1996 law banning the use of taxpayer money to derive stem cells from embryos. An appeals court has since temporarily stayed that order until it can hear full arguments in the coming weeks" (Abrams, 9/16).

The Hill's Healthwatch Blog: In the meantime, a slate of public health bills passed a House health subcommittee Thursday. "All but one, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to set up voluntary data collection on the sexual orientation and gender identity of people who apply for [Department of Health and Human Services] services or respond to its surveys, garnered unanimous bipartisan support. … Republicans on the panel all voted against the bill, which cleared markup on a 12-10 party-line vote. In a press statement sent after the vote, Republicans called the measure 'grossly intrusive'" (Pecquet, 9/16).

Houston Chronicle: Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, is asking Congress to "boost federal spending to combat cancers that afflict thousands of America's children each year. McCaul … urged Congress to take action during a Childhood Cancer Summit convened on Capitol Hill to increase lawmakers' awareness about the need for more steps to fight the disease. … McCaul and [Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe] Sestak already have collaborated to secure $4 million for childhood cancer research in the current federal budget." The pair plans to provide legislation to give "drug companies priority review for approval of new drugs targeting childhood cancers, and provide grants to train primary care physicians to better identify side effects of anti-cancer medications in children as well as to spot any signs of recurrence of the disease" (Powell, 9/16).

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