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Stem Cell Debate Focuses on States

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 Mississippi House passed a bill to prohibit the University of Mississippi from using state funds "for research that kills or destroys an existing human 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 on existing and yet-to-be created stem cell lines, so long as federal money is not used in the creation or destruction of human embryonic stem cells.  As the New York Times reports, since 1996 Congress's Dickey-Wicker amendment has banned the use of federal tax dollars to create human embryos or for research in which embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury.  The Bush Administration policy had allowed tax dollars for research on a small number of already-created stem cell lines.  President Obama's rule will greatly expand the availability of taxpayer supported stem cell research.  Researchers have relied on private 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 other state bans, is still problematic to many in the business, research, and health communities.  According to the Times, Georgia has worked in recent years to develop a fertile biotechnology business environment and a trade group sees Senate passage as a barrier to efforts to recruit out of state businesses.  Researchers, patient groups and policymakers support the research because many believe stem cell research holds the key to treating Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, and other chronic illnesses.

Office of the Presidency - Executive Order: Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells
Progressive States Network - Economic Strategies for Innovation and Job Growth
Center for American Progress - A Life Sciences Crucible: Stem Cell Research and Innovation Done Responsibly and Ethically