VOICES: Stem cells, Georgia, and the wrong message

By Tim Golden and Doug Stoner, Georgia Online News Service

More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Another 1.5 million have Parkinson's disease. Hundreds of thousands more are living with the results of spinal cord injury or disease, with that number growing each day.

But their problems, and those of their loved ones, are not the concern of the Republican members of the Georgia Senate - not a single one. With haste rarely seen at the State Capitol, Senate Republicans recently rushed to introduce and put their stamp of approval on legislation designed to ensure that medical research that could lead to effective treatments or even a cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal injuries and many other diseases will not take place in Georgia.

WomanDoingStemCellResearch.jpgThe legislation, SB 169, would outlaw embryonic stem cell research in our state. SB 169 passed the Senate in a strict party-line vote, despite testimony in opposition from the medical, scientific and academic communities.

Without a doubt, this legislation is a knee-jerk reaction to President Obama's lifting of the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research a few days earlier. Also without a doubt, the proposal was aimed at appeasing a powerful special interest group whose support is considered vital to Republican electoral success.

The bill was opposed by the University System of Georgia and some of its leading researchers. While the research will thankfully go on in other states, this is the wrong message for Georgia to be sending to sufferers of these diseases and their families, who are holding out hope for effective treatments and potential cures.

Turning their backs on all Georgians who support the lifesaving possibilities offered by stem cell research, Senate Republicans sided with a vocal minority who curiously fail to consider curing deadly diseases as pro-life. Whether or not they will admit falling victim to political pressure in voting to criminalize stem cell research, they have unfortunately cast Georgia as a backward state on this important issue.

Charles Craig, president of Georgia Bio, a non-profit group that promotes Georgia's life science industry, was quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying this legislation "tells the rest of the world that Georgia is anti-technology" - not exactly a sales tool for recruiting bio-medical companies to our state.

If SB 169 actually becomes law, one of the most tragic ironies is that Georgia is one of the states possessing the brainpower and the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of this research into the treatment and ultimate eradication of these deadly diseases.

Instead, by unanimously choosing partisan politics over lifesaving science, Senate Republicans have taken the first step toward making Georgia a joke in the science and medical communities as well as with bio-medical companies who might be considering locating their businesses in Georgia.

But the Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and spinal injury patients, their families and others like them hoping for a cure from stem cell research aren't laughing.

State Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta) is chairman of the Democratic Caucus. State Sen. Doug Stoner is a Democrat from Smyrna.