The Los Angeles Times last week examined conservative opposition to federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and efforts by states to prohibit such research. According to the Times, after President Obama issued the executive order lifting some restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, conservatives "stepped up efforts" to persuade legislators to preserve some restrictions. In addition, some opponents of embryonic stem cell research plan to launch a "far-reaching campaign to educate the public about their point of view," as well as promote less controversial research methods, the Times reports. Many conservatives have advocated the use of induced pluripotent stem cells, which are artificially derived from adult cells, as an alternative to embryonic stem cells. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he has "no problem with research that does not result in the death of embryos."

Tony Perkins, president of the antiabortion group Family Research Council, said that the executive order is "just the beginning of the process," adding that his "concern is how broad this will be interpreted, and will there be limitations." Perkins said, "With limited tax dollars available, we should not use those funds for research that is at best morally questionable." According to Perkins, several states have initiated responses to Obama's executive order by implementing their own restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. "You will see different efforts on the state level to protect the unborn and promote the culture of life," he said. Perkins added, "State legislators have the ability to shape public policy from their vantage point, so we will see some creative responses to this executive order to counter its destructive outcome."

According to the Times, Georgia's Senate already has passed a bill that bans the creation of embryonic stem cell lines by defining an embryo as a person. Although legislators rewrote the bill to address concerns that it would restrict the fertility industry, the measure still prohibits scientists from using embryos or creating new embryos for research purposes. According to the Times, researchers who violate the legislation could lose their medical license and receive a $1,000 fine for each offense. Aaron Levine, assistant professor of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said this type of legislation "is sort of an endgame if you are antiabortion." He added, "It's not written explicitly in the bill, but if the embryo is a living human being, clearly the logical follow-up is that abortion is not appropriate." According to Levine, some observers might contend that such legislation "is a backdoor way to get at the abortion issue."

According to bioethicists, another problem with initiatives like Georgia's bill is that they do not provide a mechanism to determine whether embryos should be granted constitutional and legal rights. In addition, bioethicists said the bill's language is contradictory because it allows the use of embryos for assisted reproduction while prohibiting their use for research purposes. Paul Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, said such measures are "a problematic strategy because when you define an embryo as a person, what they say is: Therefore you cannot destroy them. My response is: Therefore you cannot freeze them. How can you freeze a person and keep them suspended in animation?" He added, "The idea that they can pick and choose which aspect of human life will be relevant is interesting."

However, not all states support restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the Times reports. After former President George W. Bush in 2001 imposed the restrictions, some states passed measures allocating funding or allowing private donations to fund embryonic stem cell research. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin all passed initiatives to advance embryonic stem cell research, and Iowa and Missouri consider such research legal but do not allocate funding. The Times reports that Americans have "generally supported" embryonic stem cell research and many are hopeful that studies will lead to treatments for spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses. According to a Gallup poll conducted in February, about 38% of Americans support easing federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and an additional 14% favor no restrictions. However, 41% of respondents said they favor Bush's restrictions or support eliminating funding. Wolpe said, "On one hand, people want the cures that the stem cell research brings. But they also want a law that acknowledges the respect we should have for embryos. They don't want them to be treated merely as raw material for scientific research" (Glanton, Los Angeles Times, 3/13).

Reprinted with kind permission from nationalpartnership. You can view the entire Daily Women's Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women's Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families, published by The Advisory Board Company.

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