Legislature overrides stem-cell veto

The Massachusetts Legislature overturned Gov. Mitt Romney’s veto of the stem-cell research bill that redefines the beginning of life as the time of implantation in the womb and paves the way for cloning. Both the House and the Senate surpassed the necessary two-thirds margin in order to overturn the veto on May 30, and the bill immediately became law. The vote in the House was 112 to 42, and the vote in the Senate was 35 to 2.

"This law flies in the face of reality. Its redefinition of human life at implantation and its portrayal of life in the lab is not the truth," said Maria Parker, interim executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts.

Although Parker said she is not surprised by the law’s passage, she is “very disappointed.” The law is “not in the best interest of the common good” and discussions of the issue have been plagued by “language manipulation.”

Many legislators do not understand that the law allows cloning, added Parker.

The law will allow scientists to conduct research on embryonic stem-cells through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, also called therapeutic cloning. Through this process scientists take a woman’s egg, remove the nucleus, replace it with a nucleus from a donor’s cell and then induce it to divide. The result is an embryo that is the genetic twin of the donor. The embryo is then destroyed to obtain stem-cells.

Although the embryo could grow to become an adult human being if implanted in a uterus, the new law bans that practice sometimes called reproductive cloning.

"It most assuredly opens the door to cloning. It allows scientists unlimited access to experiment on human beings," Parker said.

The law also changes Massachusetts law by altering the definition of the beginning of life from the time of conception to the time of implantation in the womb, she said.

Representatives and senators approved the final version of the bill on May 4 and Romney proposed four amendments on May 12. The Legislature sent back the bill in its entirety and Romney vetoed it on May 27, writing in a letter to lawmakers that he could not “in good conscience allow this bill to become law.”

Although embryonic stem-cell research has not resulted in the cure of any disease, supporters of the law hope this research will lead to cures and that Massachusetts will be at the forefront of the effort.

Those who oppose this law, including Rep. Thomas P. Kennedy, D-Brockton, point out that research involving stem cells taken from adult cells or umbilical cord blood have resulted in almost 100 treatments for various diseases.

Both supporters and opponents of the law want what is best, but they should be cautious when endorsing new, controversial research, Kennedy said.

"Every one of the members of the Legislature who supports this bill and those of us who don't, we mean the very best. We really would love to be able to say that we could cast the vote that would bring about cures for all sorts of ailments," he said. "But there's so much information out there that's not understandable and not clear in the eyes and the heads of our lawmakers."

Kennedy, who himself suffers from a spinal cord injury, said he has spoken with doctors and researchers but has found no consensus on embryonic stem-cell research, which “looks like the easy answer.”

"Nothing's that easy," he added. "We're pushing the envelope too far, too fast."

Until this law passed, scientists who sought to conduct research on embryonic stem cells needed the approval of the local district attorney. The law instead has given the state Health Department some regulatory controls, banned research on embryos over 14 days old and banned the implantation of cloned embryos in a womb.

Parker said she believes scientists will seek state funding and want to expand on this bill in the future. She suspects scientists will want to move the “arbitrary” 14 day old age limit on research to 30 days old— the point at which a female embryo will have developed all the eggs she will ever have. These female embryos could then become a source of eggs for future research, she said.

AP materials contributed to this report.

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