WASHINGTON – The first weeks of 2006 brought good news and bad news for opponents of embryonic stem-cell research, as a bill that would have encouraged the research in Delaware got significant revisions but new proposals supporting it cropped up in New Jersey and Michigan.
In Florida, competing initiatives on taxpayer funding for embryonic stem-cell research each failed to gain the 611,000 signatures needed to place it on the state's November ballot; the Florida bishops had backed a proposal to prohibit such research.
The heads of Virginia's two Catholic dioceses also issued a joint pastoral letter on "Science at the Service of Life," in which they called embryonic stem-cell research both unethical and unproven.
The Delaware effort to block a bill that would have given state sanction to embryonic stem-cell research was led by a grass-roots group called A Rose and a Prayer. After the House approved a drastically amended version of the bill in January, Stephen Jenkins, a Wilmington attorney who helped form the organization late last year, said it would now seek to ban all research on embryos in the state, along with all forms of human cloning.
As passed in the House, the bill bans human reproductive cloning and the sale of human embryos but makes no mention of embryonic stem-cell research. Democratic Sen. Robert L. Venables and Republican Rep. Deborah Hudson, the bill's primary sponsors, had characterized the bill as a way for Delaware to be at the forefront of embryonic stem-cell research in the United States.
The revised bill now returns to the Senate, which had approved the original version last June. The Senate may approve the revised bill, amend the House version or take no action.
The Diocese of Wilmington and pro-life groups in Delaware had vigorously opposed the original legislation because it allowed for the destruction of human embryos. Republican Rep. Joseph G. DiPinto, co-sponsor of the House amendment that eliminated any mention of embryonic stem cells, said he may introduce legislation this spring to encourage adult stem-cell research, which the church supports.
"There is no reason why Delaware could not be a center of scientific excellence with regard to the development of adult stem-cell research," DiPinto, a Catholic and a retired DuPont scientist, told The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington.
In New Jersey, legislation recently introduced in the Legislature would ask voters to approve $230 million in public bonds for stem-cell research grants to universities, academic medical institutions and other entities in the state conducting scientific and medical research. Another bill would authorize $150 million for the construction of the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick and another $60 million for research.
Two similar bills passed the Senate in 2005, but expired because the Assembly failed to take them up before the end of the legislative session that ended Jan. 9.
Under a 2003 state law, human embryos derived from fertility clinics can be used in research.
"We need to be clear that this funding will allow research to advance that will allow the creating, the cloning and the killing of human beings through the embryonic, fetal and newborn stages," said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life.
In Michigan, Gov. Jennifer Granholm's call in her State of the State address to repeal Michigan's law prohibiting human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research drew strong criticism from the Michigan Catholic Conference.
Paul A. Long, the conference's vice president for public policy, said Granholm was irresponsible in telling Michigan families that the repeal would "lead to some sort of miracle cure."
The governor "is misleading these suffering families into believing that such 'clone and kill' legislation will alleviate the debilitating diseases that ail humanity," Long said. "The facts are that scientists have been performing stem-cell research on embryos for over 30 years, and to date have yet to produce any miracle cures."
Florida groups that had supported proposals for and against taxpayer funding of embryonic stem-cell research vowed to continue their efforts to amend the state constitution, now aiming for the 2008 ballot.
"Without such an amendment, the people of Florida will be at risk for cooperation in destructive embryo research by supporting it with our tax revenues," the Florida Catholic bishops said last September. The bishops also oppose a new proposal in the Legislature to provide $150 million in state funding over 10 years for embryonic stem-cell research.
Virginia Bishops Paul S. Loverde of Arlington and Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond said in their Feb. 2 letter that the newly established Virginia Catholic Conference would be "marshaling resources for the critical advocacy work needed to promote state investments in life-affirming research and at the same time protect the lives of embryonic human beings."
"Our church embraces scientific and medical advances that save lives, cure diseases and improve health, as long as those advances are not made by exploiting, harming or killing another member of our human family," the bishops said.
Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops