Mass. Senate Approves Budget Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 7, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Mass. Senate Approves Budget Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
November 7, 2003

Boston, MA ( — The Massachusetts state Senate approved an economic stimulus package that included a provision to allow researchers in the state to use human embryos, and possibly even create human clones. Despite an attempt to remove the provision, the Senate passed the entire package 37-3.

Pro-life groups are appalled that many Senators that called themselves pro-life approved the package. 

"This is a very sad day," said Daniel Avila, Associate Director of Policy & Research for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. "Only two Senators had the courage to oppose the wholesale experimentation on and killing of innocent human life."

The bill was opposed by Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) and Marian Walsh (D-Boston), who voted to delete the embryo research language. A third Senator, Dave Magnani (D-Framingham) voted no only because he wanted the language to more clearly state that destructive research on embryos was being authorized.

Sen. Walsh said that Massachusetts did not need to delve into such a controversial area, as the state is already "second to none" in biotechnology research and securing federal research money, without using "human life for research material.

"There are great states like Pennsylvania and Michigan that ban the destruction of embryonic stem cells, and they’re thriving in biotech," said Sen. Walsh.

President Bush has prohibited the use of federal research money for destructive human embryo research, so the proposal would not aid Massachusetts in getting more federal assistance.

Sen. Hedlund also raised issues with the bill. He said that according to a memo from Rich Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "This is the most disturbing and incoherent bill he has ever seen. We would become a laughingstock if we pass this mess."

The bill states, "human procreative cloning is hereby prohibited," yet later states, "research and clinical applications involving somatic cell nuclear transplantation, shall be permitted."

"Somatic cell nuclear transplantation," according to the President’s Council on Bioethics, is another term for cloning.

"So here we have a remarkable bill that both bans and endorses cloning," said Avila. "It is not clear whether it bans all cloning or instead it authorizes the cloning of and experimentation on human beings throughout all nine months of pregnancy and even in the neonate stages."

Avila referred to the bill’s definition of "embryo" as any "human conceptus" without limit to gestation period, or even before or after birth. It also endorsed the harvesting of "germ cells" which are not found in an unborn child until after 2 months of development.

The bill also contradicts itself by prohibiting financial "inducements" for donating stem cells, but authorizes "reasonable compensation." It also requires consent before using donated stem cells for research.

"How could consent every be obtained from a one-week old embryo?" Hedlund asked.

The proposal will now have to be approved by the state House, which passed its own stimulus package in July, without reliance on stem cell research. If the House approves the Senate’s version as well, a joint committee will create a compromise. Finally, Gov. Mitt Romney would need to approve the package.

Rep. Carron (D-Southbridge) told the stem cell research provision would create "disdain and distaste" when he first heard of the Senate’s plan to attach stem cell research to their economic stimulus package.

"I think it would be a mistake to isolate and identify stem cell research from the biotechnology industry as a whole," said Rep. Carron said. "It adds controversy to something for which we all need to be working toward together."

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) said he supports embryonic stem cell research.