The state Senate of Ohio has approved legislation that would limit the use of state funds for 'therapeutic' cloning and human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. It would also prevent people in the state benefiting from therapies developed in other states or countries that had been developed using cloning techniques or ES cells. Senate Bill 210, which follows the federal policy of President Bush, limiting state-funded researchers to work on stem cells derived from embryos created before 9 August 2001, passed through the Senate last week by 21 votes to 11.
The bill will now pass to the Ohio House of Representatives, where a similar but even more restrictive bill - banning even the use of private funds - has stalled due to lack of support. The Senate vote also came just a week after state voters approved a bond issue to provide money for biomedical research in Ohio. Advocates of ES cell research are hoping that both bills will fail in the House. Senator Eric Fingerhut, who voted against the bill, said that 'the same God that created the embryo created the miracle of its ability to differentiate and to create cures'.
A campaign group in Missouri has begun lobbying for the go-ahead for ES cell research in the state. The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures has launched a state-wide advertising campaign asking voters to sign petitions which will enable it to put a measure in favour of ES cell research on next year's ballot. If the group collects the 145,000 signatures needed, the pro-research proposal will be seen on the November 2006 ballot. The petitions are a response to efforts in the state legislature designed to restrict the research in the state.
Meanwhile, the California Superior Court has been asked to throw out lawsuits issued by pro-life and 'politically conservative interest groups', designed to disrupt the work of the State's stem cell agency. In November 2004, Californians voted in favour of Proposition 71, which established the California Institute of Reproductive Medicine (CIRM) and agreed to it issuing bonds to fund $3 billion of grants for ES cell research. But since then, two lawsuits have been issued which challenge the constitutionality of the CIRM - they allege that because the board members of the agency are not elected officials, they have no authority to distribute public funds. The delay caused by the lawsuits means that the agency cannot start work, meaning that no funds for ES cell research have been issued.
Last week, Tamar Pachter, a lawyer from the State Attorney General's office asked Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw, from Almeda County Superior Court, to throw out the two lawsuits. 'We are here because voters of this state enacted Proposition 71 last November and we haven't been able to do what the voters asked us to do because we are locked up in litigation', she said. Robert Klein, chairman of the CIRM, said that he has opened negotiations with 'charitable organisations and wealthy benefactors to loan the agency up to $50 million until the lawsuits are resolved'. A ruling on whether the lawsuits can proceed is expected at a later date.