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April 14, 2005

Massachusetts Vote Provides Another Step in the Long Road to Unleashing Stem Cell Potential

Brian W Kelly

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."
—Chinese Proverb

      Since its inception, stem cell research has been the subject of political debate in America. Unfortunately for the hundreds of thousands of Americans crippled with paralysis and deadly disease, the first step toward researching cures for these illnesses with stem cells is the hardest to take. On Wednesday March 31st, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill, previously passed in the Senate on March 30th, authorizing state funding for stem cell research. The vote passed 35-2 in the Senate, and 117-37 in the House. Both margins were large enough to sustain the two-thirds vote necessary for the override of Governor Romney's inevitable veto. Massachusetts is the most recent state to allow for such an endeavor. California voted in favor of Proposition 71 last year, authorizing three billion dollars over the next ten years to fund such research. New Jersey has provided one hundred and fifty million dollars for research.

      With passage through both chambers of the legislature, the bill will now be reviewed by a joint House-Senate committee before it is sent to the governor for signing or veto. Governor Romney is supported by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Catholic Church. Together, the two have been funding and waging a no-holds-barred opposition media campaign in which the governor calls the endeavor an effort to defeat "the radical cloning bill now on Beacon Hill." These depictions of the bill are disingenuous as the potential law clearly expresses a ban on reproductive cloning, a reaffirmation of federal law as of August 2001 (when President Bush restricted funding to the sixty stem cell lines already in existence).

      At its core, the controversy over the legislation is that the bill allows for the insertion of a nucleus from an adult cell into an egg cell to produce an embryo, and thus a grouping of stem cells. This process is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. Moral debates over the ethics of this provision are profound, and ideally not to be undermined by the attempts at simplicity offered by proponents and opponents of the process alike.

      The late Pope John Paul II had stated with regard to organ donation that, "The Catholic Church would promote the fact that there is a need for organ donors and that Christians should accept this as a 'challenge to their generosity and fraternal love' so long as ethical principles are followed." One wonders if a pioneering endeavor early in its history (as stem cells potential was only discovered in 1998 at the University of Wisconsin) will one day receive similar support. If not from the Church and other conservative groups, then from the hearts and minds of those the promise of such research touches. As long as there are fertility clinics to aid couples in conception, a right few would deny, there will be excess embryos, completely void of the prospect of life except for the promise of saving another. The same holds true for the earlier mentioned somatic cell nuclear transfer, as the embryos created in this process have no prospect for life.

      Clarence Seward Darrow, during his crusade against capital punishment (the trial of Leopold and Loeb), once stated that, "I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all." The stance many proponents of stem cell research take today is reminiscent of that view, as are at times, opponents' statements and views with regard to stem cell research. The trouble with conservative views against somatic cell nuclear transfer rests in false logic. Romney states he has no problem with embryos taken from fertility clinics being used for research, but does oppose embryos created with the same non-viability, as they will never be implanted. Many Americans are indecisive about stem cell research. Honest information is hard to come by in this loaded debate (the National Institute of Health's website is a good start). Hypocrisy should not be allowed as a valid defense of one's position. Truth and understanding should, as they did in the Massachusetts Senate and House on March the 30th and 31st. One step closer...

Front Page (April 14, 2005)

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