by Steven Ertelt
April 20, 2006
Hartford, CT (LifeNews.com) — The Connecticut stem cell research committee authorized by the state legislature to distribute $100 million in funding over the next 10 years has postponed issuing its first set of grants. The delay came about after the Office of State Ethics expressed concerns about the membership of the committee and cited conflicts of interest.
The law created the nine-member panel to administer the grants in consultation with the commissioner of the state health department and added a five-member Stem Cell Research Peer Review Board.
However, the Hartford Courant newspaper reports that a majority of the members are affiliated with the University of Connecticut or Yale University, research schools expected to receive a large portion of the funds.
The state ethics office says it is inappropriate to have any members of research foundations receiving grants sitting on the panel distributing the funds. It said the state legislature did not grant a waiver on the normal conflict of interest rules that apply to state funding.
William Gerrish, a spokesperson for state health department commissioner and committee chair Robert Galvin, told the Hartford paper that Galvin is addressing the concerns with the state legislature and hopes changes will be made to the committee by May 3, when lawmakers recess.
The delay is good news to pro-life advocates because some of the funds will be used on embryonic stem cell research, which destroys human life.
Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican, signed the measure allowing the funding in June 2005. It bans human reproductive cloning and the sale of human eggs, sperm and embryos, but allows human cloning for research purposes.
The law prohibits human embryos used in research from growing past 14 days, which detractors say mandates that all days-old unborn children must be killed for their stem cells.
In February, the panel determined the first $20 million it will dole out should go to scientists who are conducting studies with embryonic stem cells.
The board said the money should be directed first to stem cell researchers using embryonic stem cells that do not qualify for federal funds under limits put in place by President Bush.
Although scientists who are working on stem cells in animals qualify for funding, the committee said it preferred to fund embryonic stem cell research.
Marie Hillard of the Connecticut Catholic Conference is one of the few pro-life advocates in the state speaking out against the research. Her group opposes the bill because it would involve the destruction of days-old human embryos.
She also says the benefits of embryonic stem cell research are overstated and that the use of adult stem cells has been more effective and already provided cures for various diseases and ailments.
"We believe there is a tremendous amount of misinformation," she told the Courant newspaper.
Some lawmakers were concerned about spending the money because the deficit for fiscal year 2005-05 is projected to be anywhere from $600 million to $1.3 billion.