Mitt Romney, the state Governor of Massachusetts, US, has said that he will return a bill on human embryonic stem (ES) cell research to the state legislature. He wants to introduce four amendments to legislation that was passed in the state earlier this month.
The legislation, which was sponsored by Senate President Robert Travaglini, allows embryos to be cloned for medical research purposes, but prohibits human reproductive cloning. Earlier this month, it passed through the Massachusetts House of Representatives by 119 votes to 38, after previously passing the state Senate by 34 votes to two. The legislation 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 issues such as whether women who donate their eggs for ES cell research should be compensated.
Both votes should mean that the legislation could withstand any veto from Romney, who opposes human embryo stem cell research. Romney had pledged to veto any bill permitting the cloning of human embryos for research, but both chambers passed the bill with the necessary two-thirds majority needed to override such a veto. Instead of the veto, however, Romney says that 'for now', it is enough for the amendments to be considered. One amendment prohibits the creation of cloned embryos for scientific research, contrary to the original bill. Another would change the state's definition of when life begins - Romney wants the legislation to say that this is at fertilisation, rather than the previous definition in the legislation, which states that life begins at the point an embryo is implanted into the womb.
A third recommendation is that the legislation be amended to prohibit payment to women donating eggs for their time and discomfort, and only allow payment for proven expenses. The last amendment Romney wants is for a 'loophole' to be closed that he says would currently allow scientists to exploit students for their eggs and sperm. He says that a provision that currently bans the donation of embryos for research would not prevent researchers creating embryos and working on their own projects - because technically, he says, they would not be 'donating' embryos to themselves. 'What I don't want is a research laboratory saying to a group of students 'look, we'd like to get a group of eggs and we'd like to get some sperm and make some embryos for research'', he said.
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. So far, the Massachusetts legislature has not responded to Romney's proposals. Either they can adopt one or more of his amendments, and send the bill back to the House of Representatives and Senate for a new vote, or they could simply send it back to him as it is, for his signature.