March 1, 2004
To Judith Florine, the controversy over planned research at the University of Minnesota using stem cells from donated human embryos isn't much different than the apprehension over organ transplants half a century ago.
Florine suffers from kidney problems and multiple sclerosis and hopes university doctors will find breakthrough therapies for people like her. The Roseville, Minn., woman testified before a Senate committee Thursday in favor of a bill that would erase any doubts about the legality of the university's stem cell research.
"I see stem cell research as where we were with organ transplantation 50 years ago. Yeah, there's a lot we don't know; there's a lot of people who might think it's unethical or immoral or ghoulish maybe," Florine said. "We're asking everything to be volunteer, just as it is now with organ transplantation."
The Senate Health and Family Security Committee later approved the bill on a 6-3 vote. All five Democrats and one Independence Party senator on the panel supported it; the three no votes were from Republicans.
The bill by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, would explicitly authorize and spell out regulations for research using embryos donated by would-be parents through fertility clinics. The clinics often create more embryos than are used for a pregnancy.
The university revealed in February that it would start research -- with private money -- on embryonic stem cells as opposed to confining researcher's pursuits to adult stem cells.
Scientists see the research as a potential way to rebuild tissue damaged by diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes or to treat inherited diseases. The embryonic stem cells are valuable because they multiply endlessly, whereas adult stem cells don't replicate indefinitely and are more specialized, said Dr. Doris Taylor, one of two university professors who appeared before the committee.
But the university has run into criticism from conservative lawmakers
who agree with anti-abortion groups that life begins at conception.
Copyright © 2004, Associated Press