Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Proposal Advances

On the November ballot, supporters of a ballot measure that would loosen Michigan's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research took a big step toward placing it.

The Stem Cell Research Ballot Question Committee stated it turned in more than 570,000 voter signatures backing the measure. More than 380,000 of the voters have to be ruled valid for the proposal to reach voters.

Stem cells are rare cells in tissues that give rise to most other cells. Many scientists say embryonic stem cell research holds the medical potential and versatility; critics are upset that stem cells are harvested from adults or umbilical cords. In addition, embryonic stem cell research holds the potential to help treat or cure diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, sickle cell anemia and diabetes.

According to Owen, the campaign chairperson, this research has a high chance of curing many diseases and saving many lives. However, opponents raise ethical concerns because the research involves the use and destruction of human embryos. In addition, the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan oppose the proposal, an opposition group called Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation is forming.

According to ballot proposal supporters, changing Michigan's law would help broaden the type of available stem cell lines, opening up new avenues for potential cures and eventually drawing more research money to the state. Moreover, the supporters have countered that their opponents are the ones misrepresenting the issues. Supporters are trying to make the ballot because their efforts to change state law have failed in the Legislature. Yet, the supporters of the proposal to amend the constitution say it protects and strengthens Michigan's ban on human cloning.

On the other hand, opponents say the proposal does not explicitly put a ban on human cloning in the state constitution. Therefore cloning could be allowed if state law is ever changed to permit it.

The proposal would change Michigan law to permit research on donated embryos created during fertility treatments that otherwise would be discarded. It is now a state felony to use new embryonic stem cells for research.

Some embryonic stem cell research is permitted in Michigan. However, the state's laws related to the research are among the nations most restrictive, allowing only the use of stem cell lines from Illinois, California or other states with less restrictive laws. Those lines sometimes are patented by other researchers.

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