updated 5/23/2005 8:06:55 PM ET 2005-05-24T00:06:55

A new round of debate on stem cell research opened Monday with emotional appeals by people who have survived diseases. They praised one House measure that is due for a vote and hailed lawmakers who are pushing a farther-reaching bill certain to draw a presidential veto.

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“As you consider the funding options for stem cell research, please remember me,” Keone Penn, 18, said at a Capitol Hill news conference. He said he had been stricken with childhood sickle cell anemia and cured after a transplant from umbilical cord blood.

The action centered on the two bills up for House debate Tuesday, with many lawmakers planning on supporting them both.

One sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Artur Davis, D-Ala., had wide bipartisan support and backing from President Bush. It would provide $79 million in federal money to increase the amount of umbilical cord blood for research and treatment and establish a national database for patients looking for matches.

The other, sponsored by Reps. Mike Castle, R-Del., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., also has bipartisan support but is staunchly opposed by the White House.

That bill would lift Bush’s 2001 ban on federal funding for new research on embryonic stem cells, a controversial process that requires the destruction of an embryo.

Decrying science that destroys life to prolong it, Bush last week promised to veto the Castle-DeGette bill, and some lawmakers were following suit.

“This is not an easy vote for many Republicans ... and some Democrats, too, because you have pro-life and other arguments,” Castle said. “There’s a lot of tide against them voting for it.”

The sponsors, who have been counting votes for weeks, predicted the bill would garner the 218 votes needed for passage but fall short of the 290 votes needed to sustain a veto.

The votes of about 20 members of both parties still were up for grabs, Castle said.

Driving the pressure is deep emotion behind the promise — disputed in some camps — that stem cell research could provide treatment and perhaps cures for diseases as diverse as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and childhood diabetes.

Adding fuel to the House debate was the announcement last week by South Korean researchers who, funded by their government, produced human embryos through cloning and then extracted their stem cells — a major advancement in the quest to grow patients’ own replacement tissue to treat diseases.

House GOP leaders planned to offer the Smith-Davis bill first on the House floor Tuesday as an alternative to the Castle-DeGette bill, which was scheduled for a vote later in the day.

Sponsors of both bills said the two were compatible.

“There will be a number of members who will vote for both of these bills,” Davis said.

A day ahead of the floor action, supporters and opponents of the legislation gathered people with personal experience with stem cell research to tell their stories.

Penn, of Atlanta, said sickle cell anemia caused a stroke when he was 5. Treatment for the disease was so painful that he said he contemplated suicide four years later. Doctors predicted he would not live to adulthood, but because of the transplant, he turns 19 in two weeks.

“If it wasn’t for cord blood, I’d probably be dead by now,” he said.

On Tuesday, dozens of parents of babies they adopted as embryos are expected to appear on Capitol Hill and in the Rose Garden with Bush to oppose the Castle-DeGette bill. They particularly object to its premise that embryonic stem cell research makes use of fertilized eggs that would otherwise be discarded.

“We believe frozen embryos are pre-born children who deserve a chance to be born,” say one couple expected Tuesday, J.J. and Tracy Jones of Houston, who “adopted” their month-old son Trey as an embryo.

Castle and DeGette said they expect their bill to soon be considered by the Senate. If it passes both houses, they said, perhaps the White House would reconsider its opposition. Either way, Castle said, the discussion has inspired “a lot more interest in this issue.”

“And that’s not going to go away,” added Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., another co-sponsor.

Blood saved from newborns’ umbilical cords is rich in a type of stem cells that produce blood, the same kind that make up bone-marrow transplants. The Institute of Medicine recently estimated that cord blood could help treat about 11,700 Americans a year with leukemia and other devastating diseases, yet most is routinely discarded.

In contrast, the second bill deals with embryonic stem cells, which are the building blocks for every tissue in the body. Attempting to harness those stem cells’ regenerative powers is in very early research stages, but many scientists believe it has the potential to one day create breakthrough treatments.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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