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California legalizes embryonic stem cell research

©Associated Press
September 23, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation Sunday to allow embryonic stem cell research in the state, a direct contradiction of federal limits on the research.

Davis has said the legislation is essential to keep California at the forefront of medical research. He was joined by actor Christopher Reeve, who has become a medical research activist since he was paralyzed seven years ago.

The bill was opposed by the Roman Catholic church and antiabortion groups, who say the research is tantamount to murder because it starts with the destruction of a human embryo.

Stem cells, which are found in human embryos, umbilical cords and placentas, can divide and become any kind of cell.

Last year, Bush restricted federal money for human embryonic stem cell research to a select number of existing cell lines. Critics say many of those stem cells are in poor condition and are useless for research.

Sen. Deborah Ortiz wrote the bill that states California will explicitly allow embryonic stem cell research, and allows for the destruction and donation of embryos.

The bill requires clinics that do in-vitro fertilization procedures to inform women they have the option to donate discarded embryos to research. It requires written consent for donating embryos for research and bans the sale of embryos.

Ortiz and supporters of her bill say the research could be valuable in curing or alleviating chronic and degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and spinal cord injuries.

Reeve has said he has regained some feeling in his fingers and toes and urges further stem cell research as a way to treat paralysis.

"Since stem cells were first isolated in 1998, the political debate has had a chilling effect on our scientists," Reeve said Sunday. "It is painful to contemplate what advances could have been made" if that research wasn't stifled.

The move will attract "the best and the brightest" researchers to California, said Larry Goldstein, a professor at University of California-San Diego, and halt the migration of stem cell researchers to other countries where it is permitted.

Congress hasn't acted on any stem cell research bills, or a bill to ban human cloning, and Ortiz said there was still a question about whether California's law would be pre-empted by a federal statute.

Measures pending in Congress range from allowing research to criminalizing it and prosecuting those who traveled abroad for treatment derived from stem cell research.

Reeve said it will take a grass-roots movement to get federal policy that "truly expresses the will of the people" and he said he hoped California's law would encourage other states to follow suit.

"The debate will continue in the country, but these debilitating diseases affect nearly everyone in one way or another," Davis said. "As the country ages, however, more and more Americans will see the value stem cell research has in enhancing the quality of life for the people they love."

Davis has signed another bill that makes permanent a temporary ban on human cloning for reproductive purposes, said spokesman Steve Maviglio. That ban was set to expire at the end of the year.

The state Legislature passed a resolution in August that urges Congress and the president to allow stem cell research, but continue a ban on human cloning for reproductive reasons.

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