Ignoring President Bush's threatened veto, the House of Representatives passed a bill this week supporting federal funding for stem cell research using embryos discarded at fertility clinics.
The 238 to 194 vote included 50 Republicans who broke from their party's leadership. Fourteen Democrats voted against the bill.
House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas), leader of the opposition to the bill, said, "The best that can be said about embryonic stem cell research is that it is scientific exploration into the potential benefits of killing human beings."
The Senate is expected to pass the same bill with strong bipartisan support.
The bill comes at a time when an increasing number of Americans support stem cell research.
According to a December 2004 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, a majority of Americans believe stem cell research related to medical cures is more important than the destruction of human embryos.
The poll found that 56 percent of Americans support stem cell research, up from 43 percent in March 2002. Those favoring the protection of the potential life of embryos fell from 38 percent in March 2002 to 32 percent in December 2004.
Scientists contend that embryonic stem cells might one day be used to fight diseases such as Parkinson's and to repair damaged spinal cords.
The religious right opposes the use of embryos, arguing that stem cell research destroys human life.
The Pew poll found that the majority of white evangelicals (58 percent) opposed stem cell research, saying that protecting human embryos was more important than finding new cures.
White mainline Protestants (69 percent) said that "stem cell research's benefits outweigh the costs," compared to 63 percent of white Catholics who favored research.
The division along political lines showed that Democrats (68 percent) strongly favored stem cell research, while Independents (58 percent) also supported the use of embryos to find medical cures.
Republicans were evenly divided—45 percent for research and 45 percent for protecting the embryo.
Those who described themselves as conservatives had a similar division as Republicans—44 percent support the use of embryos for medical cures and 45 percent said protecting potential life was more important.
Even with the increased public support for stem cell research and the bipartisan action, the bill's proponents lack the necessary votes to override a presidential veto.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.