Minnesota Legislature Continues Debate Over Stem Cell Research
by Steven Ertelt
March 11, 2004
St. Paul, MN (LifeNews.com) — With the University of Minnesota saying it will spend millions to conduct embryonic stem cell research, the decision has left the Minnesota state legislature embroiled in a debate about whether such destructive work should be supported or if the college is violating an old state law that seems to prohibit it.
A Minnesota legislative committee on Thursday passed legislation backing the research.
The Senate Health and Family Security Committee passed a bill on a 6-3 vote that would allow embryonic stem cell research and provide guidelines for using spare human embryos left over from in vitro fertilization.
Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, sponsored the bill and told the Associated Press that he is attempting to take a "balanced approach" to the issue without "opening the floodgates" for unethical research.
But pro-life legislators and groups disagree.
One lawmaker says the college has stepped over the line of a 1973 that forbids "the use of a living human conceptus for any type of scientific, laboratory research or other experimentation except to protect the life or health of the conceptus."
Rep. Tim Wilkin, R-Eagan, says the university would run afoul of the law if it goes ahead with the destructive research.
"It’s clear they know they have a problem and they need a bill," Wilkin told AP referring to Kelley’s bill.
Wilkin and Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, met with Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the university’s Academic Health Center earlier this month. Cerra defended the research as legal and ethical.
"The university is in compliance with relevant state and federal law," Cerra said.
Because the university is conducting new research on human embryos to obtain their stem cells, it does not qualify for federal funding because of an August 2001 policy instituted by President Bush which prohibits taxpayer funding of any new embryonic stem cell research.
Wilkin had put forward legislation along with 30 other lawmakers to that would prohibit state funding for any organization that conducts embryonic stem cell research. However, he has since dropped the effort and instead opted to concentrate on enforcing the 1973 law.
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life joined Wilkin and three of the panel’s members in opposing Kelley’s legislation.
"We cannot look upon human lives merely as sources for scientific research material," wrote Marice Rosenberg, MCCL’s vice president, in a letter to the committee members. "Embracing embryonic stem-cell research would create, for the first time in Minnesota, a class of human beings that it is a duty to destroy. That is a line we must not cross."
A companion bill to Kelley’s is being considered in the House and Wilkin says it will receive significant opposition.