Harkin: Nation has 'moral responsibility' to continue stem cell research

A top Senate Democrat this week vowed that Congress will intervene if the courts roll back the Obama administration's expansion of embryonic stem cell research.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Health subcommittee, said lawmakers have a "moral responsibility" to permit such research, as long as scientists continue to believe in its potential to unlock the mysteries of debilitating diseases.

"We’ve come too far to give up now," Harkin said Thursday during a subpanel hearing on the topic. "If we don’t win this battle in the courts, we’ll take it up in Congress. This research must continue. The politicians and activist judges who oppose it need to respect the views of the overwhelming majority of the American people, who want this research to go forward."

The issue has generated no lack of headlines in recent weeks, after a federal judge last month halted the Obama administration's expansion of embryonic stem cell research. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said the process violates a law against the federally funded destruction of human embryos — a decision hailed by anti-abortion groups that have long fought to end research using embryonic cells.

More recently, a federal appeals court lifted Lamberth's ban — pending that court's final decision on the underlying case. Harkin says the uncertainty may force congressional action. 

"As long as there’s a reasonable chance that this research could help ease human suffering," Harkin said, "we have the moral responsibility to pursue it."