Massachusetts Again Considers Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 28, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Massachusetts Again Considers Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
April 28, 2004

Boston, MA ( — The President of the Massachusetts Senate is once again pushing for legislation that would promote embryonic stem cell research in the Commonwealth.

The legislative push sparked an immediate outcry from pro-life groups, who note that fetal stem cell research is unlikely to lead to groundbreaking medical cures.

"This is an enormous thing when you talk about sacrificing human life for research that has not yet proven to be successful,” Marie Sturgis, executive director for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told the Associated Press. "To go forward on such flimsy evidence is foolhardy.”

Senate President Robert Travaglini is calling for special protection for the biotech industry in Massachusetts. He claims that, without a stem cell research law on the books, Massachusetts will suffer economically.

"If we have the opportunity to cure spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease, I think we have the capacity to put in place the necessary ethical and moral protections that will obviously govern this type of work," Travaglini said at a breakfast sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

The Senate tried to add an embryonic stem cell research provision to an economic stimulus package last year, but the House removed it from the final version.

While Massachusetts does not have a specific embryonic stem cell research law on the books, pro-life leaders argue that such research violates other state laws. The research involves extracting cells from living human embryos, then killing the tiny human beings after the experiments have been completed.

Travaglini argues that Massachusetts is likely to lose jobs to states such as California and New Jersey, which appear to be competing to become the embryonic stem cell research capital of the United States.

Travaglini claims the two states "are trying to poach, to attract businesses away from us."

However, there may be few jobs to be had, once state governments realize how unsuccessful such research tends to be. Initial trials involving embryonic stem cells have proven to be disastrous. On the other hand, adult stem cell research, which does not involve the taking of human life, has proven far more effective, offering the promise of relief for conditions ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease.

The Senate President has said he anticipates a "very passionate discussion, but I believe it’s the appropriate thing to do."

However, a number of pro-life and religious groups say that, in addition to being scientifically unsound, embryonic stem cell research is patently unethical.

Travaglini is expected to bring forth an embryonic stem cell research proposal in the next few weeks. It’s unclear, though, whether the plan will be part of a stimulus package or a stand-alone bill.

Meanwhile, the head of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, Gerry D’ Avolio, told the Boston Globe that a number of groups will work to defeat the anti-life proposal.

"It’s a very complex issue, but we’re clear: We believe life begins at conception, and when you create an embryo, that’s life, and when you extract cells and then discard the embryos, they are discarding a life. We oppose it on the basis of serious ethical and moral questions," D’Avolio said.

Pro-life leader Marie Sturgis agrees.

"Human life is at stake here in this whole matter," Sturgis told the Globe. "In order to obtain the stem cells, a human being is killed.

"This is a billion-dollar industry, the biotech industry," Sturgis added. "They stand to gain a lot from this. They really don’t need our help," Sturgis said.

In fact, biotech interests already have a presence in Massachusetts. Harvard University is opening a multi-million dollar center for the purpose of studying embryonic stem cells.

President George W. Bush has blocked federal money to scientists who try to use embryonic stem cell lines produced after August 2001, but some centers are relying on private funds to support embryonic stem cell research.

Related web sites:
Massachusetts Citizens for Life –
Massachusetts Catholic Conference –