Stem cell debate focuses on states

human_embryonic_stem_cell_colony.jpgBy Adam Thompson, Progressive States Network

Opponents of stem cell research are shifting their focus to state houses after President Obama lifted Bush administration restrictions on federal financing for human embryonic stem cell research. The Georgia Senate recently passed a ban on therapeutic cloning and the creation of embryos for any purpose other than procreation.  The MississippiHouse passed a bill to prohibit the University of Mississippi fromusing state funds "for research that kills or destroys an existinghuman embryo."  And, as the New York Times reports, some states are considering bills that would define an embryo as a person.

Regarding the shift to states, a senior fellow for the conservative Family Research Council said to the Times, "I don't know that we'll have a very big voice" on the federal level.  "The states tend to be a little more fluid."

President Obama's action will allow federal financing of research onexisting and yet-to-be created stem cell lines, so long as federalmoney is not used in the creation or destruction of human embryonicstem cells.  As the New York Times reports, since 1996 Congress's Dickey-Wicker amendment has banned the use offederal tax dollars to create human embryos or for research in whichembryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk ofinjury.  The Bush Administration policy had allowed tax dollars forresearch on a small number of already-created stem cell lines. President Obama's rule will greatly expand the availability oftaxpayer supported stem cell research.  Researchers have relied onprivate and state sources of funds to create new stem cell lines. Whether or not Congress overturns the Dickey-Wicker ban is uncertain,but it will likely generate a heated debate.

Some states are considering outright bans on embryonic stem cell research, such as Oklahoma where the House passed a bill that would make the research illegal, as Reuters reports. A Texas bill would ban the use of state funds for stem cell research, and Arizona and Louisiana have laws severely limiting stem cell research.

The Georgia bill, which is less restrictive than some of these otherstate bans, is still problematic to many in the business, research, andhealth communities.  According to the Times,Georgia has worked in recent years to develop a fertile biotechnologybusiness environment and a trade group sees Senate passage as a barrierto efforts to recruit out of state businesses.  Researchers, patientgroups and policymakers support the research because many believe stemcell research holds the key to treating Alzheimer's disease, spinalcord injuries, and other chronic illnesses.

(Image of human embryonic stem cell colony from the National Institutes of Health)