The bill, passed by the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday, bans therapeutic cloning and the creation of embryos for any purpose other than procreation.
Anti-abortion groups that oppose the use of human embryos for stem cell research said similar efforts would be made in other states. This week, the Mississippi House passed a bill prohibiting the University of Mississippi from using state money “for research that kills or destroys an existing human embryo,” and some states are considering legislation that would define an embryo as a person.
“It’s nothing new, and it’s going to continue,” David Prentice, the senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, a conservative anti-abortion group, said of the push for restrictions.
“I don’t know that we’ll have a very big voice” on the federal level, as new guidelines are developed, Mr. Prentice said. “The states tend to be a little more fluid.”
Many other states have welcomed the reversal in federal policy, hoping for an infusion of research dollars.
Stem cells may hold the key to treating conditions including spinal cord injuries and Alzheimer’s disease. But harvesting the cells from human embryos destroys them.
The Georgia bill comes as new federal guidelines for stem cell research are under development. But state legislators said the timing was coincidental. Bills had to be approved by at least one house this week to have a chance of becoming law.
Critics said the bill, which is opposed by the state university system, patient groups and fertility clinics, would hamper the bioscience sector, one of the brighter spots in Georgia’s faltering economy. Georgia has put an emphasis on attracting biotechnology companies to the state, and Atlanta is to host 20,000 scientists at an international biotech convention in May.
The bill has not yet been taken up in the Georgia House, which is also controlled by Republicans. But even if it does not become law, its passage by the Senate makes recruitment more difficult, said Charles Craig, the president of Georgia Bio, an industry group. “It’s sending a signal that Georgia is anti-science,” he said.
The Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptists and anti-abortion groups oppose the use of human embryos for research.
“We allege that the emerging technologies are outstripping our political will for ethical restraint,” said Daniel Becker, the president of Georgia Right to Life, a major proponent of the bill. “They’re proliferating at an exponential rate. It’s very important that we establish ethical guidelines to prevent what we call ‘Frankenscience.’ ”
Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who has pushed the state’s efforts to attract science and technology businesses, indicated he would support the bill.
“I can’t in my conscience fathom that we would create human embryos to be used in scientific research,” Mr. Perdue told reporters on Friday. “That’s where Georgia draws the line.”
After President Bush banned federal financing of research on new stem cell lines in 2001, states developed their own policies that varied widely. About a dozen enacted laws affirming that embryonic stem cell research was legal, and a handful even allocated state money for research. Several states, including Louisiana and Oklahoma, banned embryonic stem cell research outright, while others limited it.
The bill that passed the Georgia Senate was not nearly as restrictive as Georgia Right to Life wished. It was filed as a sprawling bill that took on both the fertility industry and stem cell research. It defined an embryo as a “biological human being who is not the property of any person or entity,” limited the number of embryos that a woman could have implanted and forbade the destruction of unused embryos or their donation to science. It included criminal penalties.
But people undergoing fertility treatments raised a loud protest, said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and Senate leaders removed several of those provisions from the bill.
The much shorter version that passed does not specify penalties or address the fate of unused embryos, as long as they were created for the purpose of procreation.
Who didn't see this coming?