The life-saving issue of stem-cell research returned to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, and Pennsylvania's two senators, unfortunately, are still a study in contrasts.
Republican Arlen Specter voted for the bill, which passed 63-34 and would ease President Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research. He has also pledged to vote for it again to overcome a promised presidential veto. (Mr. Bush rejected last year's bill on the same subject.) The state's other senator, first-term Democrat Bob Casey, did not join the new Democratic majority in providing more support for the measure and voted against it.
Mr. Casey's position on stem-cell research is similar to that taken by Republican Rick Santorum, whom he defeated last November. An opponent of abortion, he is also against what he sees as the federally sanctioned destruction of human embryos for use in medical research, even though the embryos will be destroyed eventually at fertility clinics in any case.
It is generally agreed that expanded stem-cell medical research is forward-looking and could lead the way to dealing with killer diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's. An argument that Mr. Santorum is said to have found appealing, despite his overall opposition to using embryonic stem cells, was that stem-cell research might help doctors deal with some of the frightful wounds and disfigurements that U.S. soldiers in Iraq are bringing home from the battlefield.
A number of states have already passed legislation and appropriated their own funds to support such research. California has been in the lead with $3 billion set aside. It is nonetheless important that the federal government play a role as well, to coordinate overall American research in order to avoid duplication and to improve communication in this cutting-edge area.
Mr. Casey's and Mr. Bush's opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and the position they have taken is apparently faith-based. It is difficult to see, however, how faith-based compassion does not include supporting a critical quest for medical solutions to severe, fatal diseases.
The Senate is now in striking distance of mustering the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto, which makes Mr. Casey's vote loom very large. We urge him to rethink his view on this matter of deep importance to Pennsylvanians stricken by these diseases or who are helping family members or friends cope with them. We had hoped better of him.