Date: 10/13/2008 4:56 AM
By TIM MARTIN
Associated Press Writer
LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Michigan voters will be thrust into the crossroads of science, ethics and religion next month when they decide whether to loosen the state’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
Supporters of the ballot measure say it could put Michigan researchers at the forefront of an emerging science that might help discover cures for spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and a host of other illnesses.
Opponents say the research is unethical because it involves the use and destruction of human embryos. The groups Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan are among the proposal’s opponents.
Many scientists believe embryonic stem cell research holds more promise for medical breakthroughs than less controversial adult stem or umbilical cord blood research. Embryonic stem cells are more versatile.
“Maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually, the majority of therapies and cures will be coming from genetic therapy,” said Joe Schwarz, 70, a doctor and former Republican congressman from Michigan who chairs the pro-ballot CureMichigan campaign.
Michigan’s current stem cell laws are among the nation’s most restrictive. Some embryonic stem cell research is allowed in Michigan, but only on stem cell lines already established by researchers in other states.
The stem cell measure, on the ballot as Proposal 2, would change state law to allow people to donate embryos left over from fertility treatments. Those embryos, not suitable for implantation, would otherwise be thrown away as medical waste.
An opposition group says the proposal would take away Michigan lawmakers’ ability to regulate the emerging discipline.
“There are a lot of reasons to vote ‘no’ on this, and one is that it would lead to unregulated research,” said David Doyle, a spokesman for an opposition group called Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation.
Supporters counter that research using human embryos is regulated by federal law. And the proposal spells out some other limitations that would be specific to Michigan.
The embryos would have to be donated. Buying or selling human embryos for the research would be illegal. Stem cells couldn’t be taken from embryos more than 14 days after cell division begins.
The measure takes on added significance because of possible upcoming changes to federal law.
President Bush restricted the use of federal money going to embryonic stem cell research. But both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama have said they support relaxing federal restrictions.
That could result in more grant money and life sciences jobs in states prepared to capitalize on the changes. California, for example, already plans to invest $3 billion on the research.
A study done for the Michigan Prospect, a Lansing-area think tank with several Democratic directors, suggests that even a 1 percent boost in biotech employment from stem cell research would lead to more than 400 new biotech jobs, not counting potential spinoff jobs. It estimates a 5 percent boost in biotech employment would bring more than 2,000 jobs.
Stem cell ballot battles are relatively rare in other states.
In 2006, Missouri voters approved an amendment protecting stem cell research by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 49 percent. Efforts to undo the proposal began almost immediately, although the counterproposals did not make the 2008 ballot.
In Florida, two competing stem cell proposals failed to make the ballot this year. One proposal would have banned state funding of embryonic stem cell research, while the other would have required the state to provide $20 million a year for such research.
On the Net:
Pro ballot: http://www.curemichigan.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.