Part One: The Lunacy of Michigan's Life Science Laws

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The following post is part one in a three-part series on stem cell research in Michigan. The series will focus on: Michigan's laws, the opposition's efforts to discredit embryonic stem cell research, and the economics of stem cell research in Michigan's life sciences industry.

For the last four years, one of my biggest projects in the legislature has been working to remove Michigan's serious restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. (eSCR) I say restrictions, but Michiganders should be aware that our state has some of the most restrictive stem cell laws in the nation. We are more restrictive than the federal policy and more restrictive than most other states. Michigan's laws are so severe that should a breakthrough take place in another state or nation, residents will have to leave the state to even received treatment. While knowledge of this situation has grown over the last few years due to some diligent reporting, eight editorials in favor of changing our laws, and hard work by stem cell supporters, we still have along way to go before our laws are no longer dictated by a vocal minority.

The prohibitions date back to 1978 when Michigan banned any research on an embryo, unless it is for the purpose of improving the viability of that embryo. It wasn't related to embryonic stem cells, which weren't isolated until 1998. Instead, it has been said that these laws were an over reaction to in-vitro fertilization, a new technology at the time, which was opposed by some of the same people opposing eSCR today. The second part of our prohibition is the ban on Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, (SCNT) which is needed for the creation of stem cells matching a patent's genetic code. This law was passed during the panic that followed the cloning of "Dolly" the sheep in Scotland. The intent of the bill, which few disagree with, was to prohibit human reproductive cloning by prohibiting using SCNT to initiate a pregnancy. Instead, we enacted a total ban on all forms of SCNT, including forms need for research and the creation of cells. The sponsor of this legislation, former State Representative Kirk Profit, has said that his bill went too far and is now working to see the law amended.

It should be noted that these laws do not save a single embryo from destruction. Left over embryos are thrown in the trash by the thousands, but should a scientist perform research on them, they will be sent to jail.

The bills before the Michigan State House sponsored by State Representative Andy Meisner and Mark Meadows, will remove Michigan's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. They are similar to the bills passed by the U.S. House and Senate and passed in Missouri as a state constitutional amendment. These bills aren’t radical by any means. They are a balanced approach that will finally bring Michigan out of the dark ages.

Some may even say that the bills are a compromise because, like the federal legislation that President Bush continues to veto, they limit the research to embryos left over from infertility clinics. The bills will prohibit embryo donors from receiving any financial or other benefit from the donation and will require informed and written consent for the donation. The legislation also removes Michigan's restrictions on SCNT, so doctors will be able to treat patients.

The bill package includes two bills which will increase penalties for human reproductive cloning, to make a clear distinction in the law between SCNT and attempting to clone a person.

There are many medical benefits possible from both adult and embryonic stem cell therapies, but due to their ability to become any one of the 200 plus cell types in the body, embryonic stem cells offer the opportunity to cure many diseases and conditions that adult stem cells never will, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries and juvenile diabetes. As an example, since pancreatic adult stem cells do not exist, we will only cure juvenile diabetes with embryonic stem cell therapies.

Supporters of eSCR also support adult stem cell research and other forms of stem cell studies. But, as researchers will tell you, and despite opposition claims, there is no replacement for embryonic stem cell research for many debilitating diseases and conditions. Reputable scientists will tell you that there are nine adult stem cell treatments. I discuss this further in part two of this series.

There is a small, extreme minority who are opposed to this research. In March, a poll commissioned by MIRS, The Rossman Group and Denno-Noor Public Opinion Company confirmed what previous polls have said; that Michiganders overwhelmingly want this research to take place. The poll showed 65% support among all voters. Of the twelve regions of the state identified in the poll, every geographic area supported the research by over 60%. Previous polls have also showed similar support among Roman Catholics and majority support among those who consider themselves "pro-life".

Hopefully, the will of the people, who overwhelmingly support stem cell research, will eventually prevail and move Michigan toward a future including cures and treatments for our friends and families.

Next time: Refuting those who discredit a promising life science.

To learn more about the science of stem cell, go to the University of Michigan's Life Sciences Department here.


steves 3:35 PM  

Thanks for the article. I'll admit that I have mixed feelings on the subject. I am very much pro-life, but my grandfather dies from complications related to his Parkinson's disease. I also watched a man go from being healthy and active to someone who would drool and was unable to take care of himself.

I would be opposed to a system that would develop a market for women to develop and sell their embryos like people do plasma. OTOH, I will also admit to not having much of an understanding of the process and the research. It sounds like the bill you mention only uses stuff left over from fertility clinics, so I would support that.

So, I should be writing to my rep.?

Bob 8:49 AM  

At some point in the growth of a person from conception to birth each of us believes there is a point where life begins. Some of us align ourselves with current Catholic doctrine, believing life begins at conception. Some believe life begins at implantation. Many in the Jewish faith believe that until forty days, the fetus is considered "simply water".

I think the point is, very few of us have a problem using a embryo, also known as a "blastocyst" made up of a few hundred cells, (as opposed to the trillions in an adult) without human form, shape, nerves, organs or other human features, to save lives. The blastocyst is about 4 or 5 days in development. When confronted with the fact that the embryos are destined for the trash can anyway, it becomes a no-brainer for most of us. There are some however, that want to make the decision for the rest of us that we should forego cures in favor of fantasy world where 400,000 embryos will be implanted into waiting mothers. This is not going to happen. The couples who created the embryos cannot be forced to donate them to women who want to implant them, nor are there more than a couple hundred couples waiting to adopt an embryo across the United States each year. Many of the same people who are fighting eSCR would like to see a ban on in-vitro fertilization to prevent the supply of eggs from ever happening. Good luck with that one too.

The embryos to be used for research are already in existence, have never implanted and likely never will be. A large portion of them cannot be implanted due to defect, but are still suitable for research. The eggs that may eventually be needed for treatments will never be needed in the numbers to generate a market for them. It is more likely that a mother would need to donate one egg to cure her child of juvenile diabetes. These eggs would never be fertilized by a sperm and never be implanted in a uterus. Instead they would be used to grow stem cells that match the child's genetic make up.

Like the donation of organs, there needs to be limits on the market or selling of other biological material. We can all agree on certain limits, it's a matter of protection, and respect to those who have ethical concerns. It's where we place the limits that decide the fate of eSCR and the patents that will be treated by stem cell therapies.

I believe people like you are the best people to end this controversy. You want cures, but also have ethical concerns. Yes, you should write your Rep. I am not sure what district you live in, but it would be a good idea to share your thoughts.

Smitty 12:16 PM  

I think Orrin Hatch's interview with the New England Journal of Medicine really sums up a rational, thoughtful position. that it comes from one of the most conservative members of congress and flag-waiving rtl champion shows that a little rationality goes a long way.

NEJM asked him why, as a staunch rtl supporter, he could support escr. He answered, to paraphrase, that he can't understand why it is a position in support of life to discard blastocysts and at the same time not search for cures for debilitating diseases. I
In his mind, right to life is all life, not just the unborn. and if instead of throwing out these cells they are used for real cures, all the better.

steves 2:41 PM  

Barb Byrum is my rep. I went to law school with her and she may remember me.

Smitty 4:39 PM  

As I recall, BArb is a supporter. But she will still value any supportive comments from her district as proof of the popularity of the issue.

Don C. Reed,  4:57 AM  

Can someone point me to a person who is familiar with the effort to improve Michigan's stem cell situation? Don C. Reed,

steves 6:30 AM  

What bill #'s do I need to reference in my letter?

Smitty 11:31 PM  


House Bills 4616, 4617 and 4618.

Mr. Reed:

As for someone who knows what's up in Michigan, you just read his blog entry. Or contact Marcia Baumm at the Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures. Click here for their web site.

Bob 2:22 PM  

I e-mailed my contact info to Mr. Reed via the e-mail address at his website.


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