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Amendments to Massachusetts stem cell bill rejected

23 May 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 309

The Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate have rejected four amendments made to a stem cell bill returned to the legislature by state Governor Mitt Romney.

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 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.

The margin of both votes meant that the legislation could withstand any veto from Romney, who opposes human embryo stem cell research. He had previously pledged to veto any bill permitting the cloning of human embryos for research. Instead of the veto, however, Romney proposed four amendments. One would have prohibited the creation of cloned embryos for scientific research, contrary to the original bill. Another would have changed 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 amendment recommended that the legislation be amended to prohibit payment to women donating eggs for their time and discomfort, and only allow payment for proven expenses. Finally, Romney wanted 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.

Despite some support in the House for some of the proposed changes, the amendments have been rejected in full and the bill has been returned to Romney in its original form for his signature. However, Julie Teer, a spokesperson for Romney, said that he would veto the bill, 'because it contains very serious flaws and crosses very serious ethical boundaries'. To do so, there would need to be less than two-thirds support for the bill after the proposed amendments.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Massachusetts House, Senate Reject Governor's Proposed Changes To Bill Supporting Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Kaiser Network |  23 May 2005
Mass. lawmakers reaffirm bill for stem cell research
The Boston Globe |  20 May 2005
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