Legislation authorising research on human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) has been passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, after being sent back for final approval following passage by the Senate by 34 votes to two last week. The House has now approved the bill by 119 votes to 38, meaning that the legislation should be able to withstand any veto from Governor Mitt Romney, who opposes human embryo stem cell research. Romney had pledged to veto any bill permitting the cloning of human embryos for research, but because both chambers passed the bill with the necessary two-thirds majority needed to override such a veto, it is still likely to become law.
Sponsored by Senate President Robert Travaglini, the bill allows embryos to be cloned for medical research purposes, but prohibits human reproductive cloning in the state. It also removes the requirement that stem cell scientists seek approval for research projects from the local district attorney and instead gives the state's Department of Public Health more control. It also sets up a stem cell advisory committee to oversee ES cell research and establish safeguards, although it does not provide state funds for researchers. The advisory committee would also advise lawmakers on the issues in ES cell research and, for example, look into such issues as whether women who donate their eggs for ES cell research should be compensated.
A growing number of US states are drawing up their own laws governing ES cell research, the result of increasing dissatisfaction with President Bush's policy on this issue. On 9 August 2001, he ruled that federal funds could only be used for research on human ES cell lines derived before that date. Charles Jennings, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said the bill will send a powerful signal to those interested in ES cell research that Massachusetts welcomes their efforts. 'It will be a tremendously positive thing for Massachusetts and for the research community', he said. Tom Reilly, Massachusetts' Attorney General, praised the legislature for passing a bill that will encourage and foster ES cell research in the state. He added that the research 'offers hope for new cures and will boost our innovation economy. With our top-flight researchers, universities, and medical facilities, we should lead this field'.