Thomas Reilly, the Attorney General of the US state of Massachusetts, has rejected a proposed ballot that was designed to overturn the state's recently-passed law on embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Reilly said he has refused the ballot because the Massachusetts constitution does not allow ballot initiatives on laws that are based on religion. He also cited a clause, already built into the law, that allows medical staff to be exempted from handling human embryos, placental tissue or umbilical cord blood if they conscientiously object.
The new law, which was sponsored by Senate President Robert Travaglini, allows embryos to be cloned for medical research purposes, but prohibits human reproductive cloning. It also establishes a stem cell advisory committee to oversee ES cell research in the state 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 Massachusetts legislature passed the law after overruling a veto by state Governor Mitt Romney. The House of Representatives had passed the bill by 119 votes to 38 in May, it having previously passed through the state Senate by 34 votes to two. Later, both the House and Senate rejected four amendments proposed by Romney, and sent it back to him for his signature. He then vetoed the bill, but the margin of both votes - above a two-thirds majority - meant that the legislature had the chance to overrule his veto. The House voted 112-42 to do so, with the Senate voting 35-2.
Larry Cirignano, leader of the group Catholic Citizenship, which filed the petition asking for the ballot, said that the group was considering an appeal of Reilly's decision in a state court. He said that he disagreed with Reilly's reasons for rejecting the proposal. Other critics of Reilly's decision say that they find it difficult to see the stem cell law as 'religious' in nature, implying that his decision is legally wrong. But Reilly responded that the new law passes a three-tiered test, set by a 1990 case, which determines whether or not a law can be classed as religious.
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Mass AG Nixes stem cell ballot initiative