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Lawmakers weigh in on stem cell research bills

January 26, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Bills to provide $25 million for stem cell research were heard in committees in both the Senate and the House on Wednesday, and local lawmakers were leaning against supporting legislation that would provide state money for embryonic stem cell research.

Those bills, sponsored by Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, stipulate that only unused embryos from infertility procedures would be used for research.

"Cloning is absolutely banned," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who called the bills "groundbreaking" for Maryland and a boon to both health care and economic development in the state.

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Busch said the bills were "an appropriate and modest start in the right direction. We'll go forward today with the hearing and pass the bill through the House."

The House approved a similar bill last year, but it was filibustered in the Senate and died in the waning hours of the legislative session.

Washington County legislators voted against last year's bill, and some insisted they would do so again.

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, serves on the House Health and Government Operations Committee, one of the legislative panels hearing the bills Wednesday.

"Both sides had compelling stories today," Donoghue said. But, he said, "adult stem cell and umbilical cord research are all working. There's no evidence in all of the animal embryonic research that it helps."

The basic argument for the research is that the embryos targeted by the legislation would be discarded anyway, and the research could lead to cures for diseases such as Parkinson's disease and diabetes.

Opponents argue that using embryos for research destroys human life.

"The way I feel about it is adult stem cell research is prudent," said Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany. "There will never be enough research on embryonic stem cells that will ever convince me to support it."

Myers said he believed many of the same people who support stem cell research also support abortion, which he opposes, and he's concerned about "the remote possibility it could accelerate abortion."

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, supports adult stem cell research.

But when it comes to research "on discarded embryos, probably not," he said.

A failed amendment to last year's bill that would have banned cloning convinced Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, to vote against it. This year, he's watching to see what form the House bill takes when it emerges from committee.

"I have some real moral and ethical concerns," Shank said. "There is some real promise with the technology moving forward that could harvest stem cells without destroying the embryo."

But he said "the promise of curing these diseases is something we need to give consideration to."

McKee, Myers, Shank and Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, are co-sponsoring a bill that supports adult stem cell research.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich has earmarked $20 million in his fiscal 2007 budget proposal for stem cell research.

Busch predicted the House bill would be out of committee and ready for a floor vote within two weeks.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Washington/Frederick, has said the bill faced another filibuster in the Senate. He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

House Bill 1, Senate Bill 144, House Bill 136

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