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Legislators urge support opposing human embryo ‘farms’

byGail Besse Special to The Pilot
5/18/2007

BOSTON -- We cannot let women be exploited as “egg producers” and human embryos “farmed” as fodder for scientific experiments, says state Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, R-North Attleboro.

Legislators who share these concerns are signing on to a letter urging Gov. Deval Patrick to keep in place current state health department restrictions that prevent scientists from setting up “farms” that would clone human embryos solely so they can be destroyed and their stem cells used for research.

“I’m very concerned that if people don’t oppose this egregious practice, Patrick’s plan will go through,” the North Attleboro lawmaker said in a recent interview.

All four Massachusetts bishops have also publicly opposed the governor’s March 30 announcement that he will scrap the restrictions put in place by former Gov. Mitt Romney.

Poirier urged people to ask their own state representative to sign her letter.

It reads in part: “Embryonic stem cells are obtained by harvesting them from living embryos, up to 14 days old. The high demand for eggs needed for researchers either to farm human embryos for experimentation or to produce human embryo clones will foster the exploitation of women. Most will be poor women who will choose to donate their eggs in exchange for monetary consideration.

“Millions of women will be affected as this research goes forward. The procedure to obtain eggs uses powerful drugs to suppress and stimulate the ovaries in order to produce an extraordinary number of eggs, which will then be fertilized.

“This procedure has resulted in hospitalization and even death in some cases. Many of the drugs have not been studied for long-term safety or have been FDA approved.”

The letter noted that Ann Kiessling, the director of the only known American clinic collecting human eggs for stem-cell research, has said that the long-term risks of these hormonal treatments might not be fully known for another 20 years.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCFL) has joined Poirier’s effort with an April 26 alert that advises people to call legislators at 617-722-2000 and ask them to sign her letter.

“Let them know that you support ethical forms of research such as adult stem-cell research, but oppose embryonic because it kills human life. We cannot kill people in the quest to help others,” the MCFL alert reads.

In addition, it advises people to call Patrick at 617-725-4005 to oppose his plan, noting “Ethics, not science or politics, should guide researchers. We cannot let science or government decide which human lives are valuable and which are not.”

Poirier said it’s ironic that although embryonic stem-cell research has produced no documented cures, the most promising research has come from stem cells taken from placentas and umbilical cord blood, but the state has no provisions to accept these natural byproducts of birth.

“Women are willing to donate them, yet we throw them away and the state wants to experiment on humans,” she said. “Those of us who know this is wrong have an obligation to do something to stop it.”

Catholic Citizenship, a Boston-based lay-run group that encourages Catholics to participate in the legislative process, has also urged people to oppose embryonic stem-cell research.

And action is needed quickly, before the regulations are permanently scrapped.

At a Public Health Council public hearing in Boston April 25, business and bio-medical interests spoke in favor of dismantling the regulations, according to a report in Boston University’s Daily Free Press. The paper said the Public Health Department “intends to revise its interpretation” of the law, “saying the ban has stifled the commonwealth’s scientists.”

Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Newton) said that dropping the restrictions on human embryo farming will foster research and development, according to the report. “This is an industry that will help the Massachusetts economy,” he said.

The bottom line is money, according to Poirier. “There’s a big research complex planned for Allston-Brighton. That’s why there’s this push to lift the restrictions.”

In their public statement opposing Patrick’s plan, the state’s four Catholic bishops said, “The governor minimizes the profound moral concerns at stake and attributes to science the exclusive authority to determine right and wrong. History has demonstrated that science must be governed by ethical principles rooted in the fundamental values of human dignity and sanctity of life or it will become the engine of great destruction.”

The bishops urged the governor to instead support ethical adult stem-cell research that shows far more promise. “This is the direction that ‘life sciences’ should pursue,” they said.

To find out who your elected officials are, call the state Elections Division at 617-727-2828 (1-800-462-8683) or go to www.wheredoivotema.com.