A few states buck stem cell trend with bans

Tue Mar 17, 2009 1:00am EDT

*States pass laws banning embryonic stem cell research

*Georgia business leaders fear economic backlash

*States say they want to preserve life

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - Oklahoma politician Mike Reynolds believes the federal government has gone too far this time.

Days after President Barack Obama lifted limits on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research this month, the Republican state representative introduced a bill that would make much of such work illegal in his state.

"I absolutely believe that if the federal government messes things up, states have a right to straighten it out," Reynolds said in a telephone interview.

"I believe the federal government has infringed on several states' rights. The right to protect lives is one."

Other states are taking similar action to curb stem cell research. Their moves are reverse images of legislation in Maryland, New Jersey, California, New York and other states that passed their own laws encouraging and even funding stem cell research despite the restrictions under former President George W. Bush.

Reynolds said his bill will need some rewording before it passes through the Oklahoma state senate. "My motivation is to protect unborn children," he said.

The executive order from Obama, a Democrat, erased limits set by his Republican predecessor Bush on human embryonic stem cell research. The limits meant researchers could only use federal funds to work with a few batches, or lines, of the powerful cells that existed as of August 9, 2001.

Obama has left it up to the National Institutes of Health to control what scientists can do with federal money and opponents of embryonic stem cell research fear the NIH could open up the possibilities.

While most embryonic stem cell lines are now made from unused embryos from fertility clinics, there are some fears the NIH may allow or even encourage the use of cloning technology to make embryos as a source of cells.

OUTLAWING HUMAN CLONING

The trenches in this battle do not fall firmly along traditional abortion rights dividing lines. Some staunch opponents of abortion rights support human embryonic stem cell research, which supporters say could lead to insights that could provide treatments for diseases from diabetes to AIDS.

The Georgia state senate passed a bill last week outlawing the use of cloning technology to make a human embryo, and the bill specifically notes that stem cells from other sources, including stem-like cells called iPS cells, are not affected.

But the bill could put pressure on a traditional alliance of social conservatives and the business community.

A coalition ranging from academic institutions to business interests and patient advocacy groups opposes the Georgia bill, said Charles Craig, president of Georgia Bio, which promotes the state's interest in the life sciences industry.

"Georgia should not do anything more restrictive than the federal government when it comes to scientific research," Craig said. He fears the measure, if it becomes law, would send a "negative signal" to the rest of the world and could "brand the state as being anti-science."

The Mississippi House passed a bill last week forbidding the University of Mississippi to use state funds for research that would destroy a human embryo.

A bill filed last week in the Texas legislature would ban the use of state funds for stem cell research.

Arizona already has a law on the books that says university researchers cannot use state funds to manipulate embryonic stem cells in pursuit of treatment or potential cures.

Another Arizona law prohibits Arizona scientists from experimenting with any type of human embryo or fetus. Similarly, Louisiana prohibits research on embryos made in vitro fertilization or IVF clinics.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Matt Bigg in Atlanta; editing by Patricia Zengerle)