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States Challenge Bush on Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

Bills would encourage scientific study. They also would permit some cloning for lab tests.

November 29, 2002|Aaron Zitner | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Following California's lead, lawmakers in at least three other states will take up proposals next year to encourage research on stem cells taken from human embryos. The measures would also permit scientists to use cloning to produce human embryos for stem-cell experiments.

The legislation is a challenge to President Bush, who favors a federal ban on cloning and has set rules that limit embryonic stem-cell research. Congress is expected to revisit a proposal next year to outlaw human cloning for any purpose.

In New Jersey, a bill supporting embryonic stem-cell research won approval in a Senate panel Monday, and a similar bill was introduced Nov. 19 in Pennsylvania. Aides to Massachusetts lawmakers say a bill will be introduced there next week.

Similar proposals could turn up in other states, as most legislatures have just begun to lay out their agendas for next year.

In most states, embryonic stem-cell and cloning research is already legal, when funded with private money. But by explicitly authorizing the research, the bills aim to encourage investors who may have been driven away from stem-cell companies by fears that the federal government will restrict the research.

"Our intent is to bring as many research people into the state as we can," said state Sen. Richard J. Codey, a Democrat and co-president of the Senate in New Jersey, home to many pharmaceutical and bioresearch firms. "If this in fact passes, money will flow into the state and those firms. This sends a message that we want [stem-cell research] to start and continue in our state." He said the research holds hope for curing a range of diseases.

Similar motives prompted California lawmakers to pass a measure this year supporting embryonic stem-cell research; Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill in September. The Biotechnology Industry Assn., a trade group, sent the California law to its affiliates in 35 states and suggested they try to pass similar measures across the country.

At least 30 states considered cloning-related laws this year, most of them supported by antiabortion groups and social conservatives who want to restrict or ban the research.

Iowa, Michigan and Virginia in recent years have banned cloning for any purpose, while Louisiana, Rhode Island and California ban cloning to initiate a pregnancy. A handful of other states have laws protecting embryos, which might be interpreted as barring embryonic stem-cell experiments.

"I think the pro-research side has realized that we have to work a little harder in the states, but it is an uphill battle for us," said Sean Tipton, a vice president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which favors embryonic stem-cell work. "Traditionally, the other side has been much better organized in state capitals, because they are used to fighting the abortion battles on the state level."

Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he sees little significance in states supporting embryonic stem-cell work, because it is already legal.

"What's significant is that, despite the claims of the research community that cloning means medical progress, a number of states are moving to ban cloning and, in some cases, ban embryo research generally," he said.

Embryonic stem cells have drawn intense interest because they are able to morph into any type of cell in the human body. Scientists say the embryo cells are yielding a treasure trove of data about the basics of human biology, as well as clues as to how to cure Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other ailments.

Last year, Bush said that taxpayer money, which funds the bulk of U.S. medical research, could be used for experiments on only a narrow set of stem cells that had been taken from human embryos before Aug. 9, 2001. Bush said a broader policy would be immoral, because it would cause more human embryos to be destroyed for their stem cells.

Next year, Congress will consider proposals to ban all human cloning. While there is broad support for a ban on cloning intended to produce children, some lawmakers, scientists and patient groups say cloning should be a legal tool for producing human embryos for their stem cells.

Bush, antiabortion groups and others favor a total ban. Without it, they say, the federal government would be permitting the creation of human embryos through cloning -- then mandating that those embryos be destroyed, as growing them to term would be illegal.

They say equally promising research can be conducted without ethical problems by using cells taken from adults, although some scientists dispute this.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) won the support of 40 to 50 senators this year for a total cloning ban, congressional aides said. That was short of the 60 votes needed to move legislation in the Senate.

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