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Stem-cell bill offers hope of curing disease

Editorial: Gov. McGreevey has a chance to make New Jersey the second state to allow stem cell research

January 2, 2004
PacketOnline News
Princeton and Central New Jersey

Gov. James E. McGreevey has an opportunity to sign legislation that would promote responsible biomedical research in New Jersey and open the door to cures for chronic diseases.

The legislation would allow embryonic stem-cell research in the state, while also banning misuse of stem-cell technology that might gravitate toward the slippery slope of human cloning.

Opponents of the bill which included every Assembly Republican except Hudson County's Rafael Fraguela (who was promptly thrown out of the GOP caucus after voting for the measure) didn't let the restrictive provisions in the bill get in the way of their politics. Never mind that human cloning and "fetal farming" would be illegal; the righteous ideologues prophesied cloned embryos being implanted willy-nilly in the wombs of mercenary fetus-carriers, only to be terminated just before birth to harvest their body parts.

This kind of scare-mongering may play well in the Bible Belt, but New Jerseyans are sophisticated enough to see the extraordinary potential in embryonic stem-cell research. Scientists are convinced that such research holds the key to eventual cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, paralysis and a host of other illnesses and diseases.

Yet President Bush, in obeisance to the religious right, cut off federal funding in 2001 for research on all but existing lines of embryonic stem cells which, at the time, were believed to number around 60. The director of the National Institutes of Health has since reported that only 11 lines are actually available for research, but the president remains unmoved even in the face of this gross miscalculation.

Thus, a great deal of groundbreaking embryonic stem-cell research and the significant benefits (and profits) to which it will invariably lead is now conducted outside the United States. But without a major commitment of U.S. scientific knowledge and capital, the prospect of finding cures for terminal illnesses and providing relief from painful symptoms of deadly diseases will remain a distant dream.

In the face of President Bush's restrictive decree on federal funds, California is the only state that has passed legislation officially encouraging embryonic stem-cell research. With Gov. McGreevey's signature, New Jersey would become the second. This would not only be a major shot in the arm for the state's large biomedical research industry; it would also represent hope for millions of people who now live with and die of illnesses and diseases to which stem-cell research may hold a cure.

Sign the bill, governor. Show the president, the Assembly Republicans and the three congressmen who would have you do otherwise that you will give hope to those victims of preventable illnesses and curable diseases. Do it because they are living, breathing people. And they have a right to life.

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