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We could ban stem cell research - and require it

The state Supreme Court is weighing dueling constitutional initiatives for legal clarity. If both get on the ballot - well, you know Florida voters.

Published December 1, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether voters should get a chance to require or ban state spending on embryonic stem cell research - or potentially both - in 2008.

A proposed state constitutional amendment that would prohibit spending "on experimentation that involves the destruction of a live human embryo" was submitted Thursday to the high court for review.

The justices on Nov. 7 received an amendment that would require the state to appropriate $20-million annually for 10 years to pay for embryonic stem cell research.

The Supreme Court reviews, each requested by Attorney General Charlie Crist, were triggered because both citizen initiatives have received 10 percent of the 611,009 signatures they will need to get on the ballot.

If each winds up going before voters, there's a possibility both could pass.

Susan Cutaia, who chairs Citizens for Science and Ethics, which is sponsoring the spending ban initiative, said she didn't want to speculate on what would happen then.

"The whole area of stem cell research will really be discussed," said Cutaia, who owns a mortgage company in Boca Raton. "I think Floridians deserve to hear the facts."

Such a public debate will make it unlikely voters would pass both amendments, she said.

Her group has raised $71,753, including contributions from Roman Catholic churches, according to financial reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

The other amendment is sponsored by Floridians for Stem Cell Research and Cures, which is chaired by Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson. Most of its $345,421 in contributions have come from retirees.

A call to that group was not returned.

Embryonic stem cells are formed shortly after conception and can turn into any tissue in the body. Researchers are trying to determine if the cells can be used to grow replacement tissue to treat diabetes, spinal cord injuries and other conditions.

The research, though, requires that embryos, which opponents equate with human life, be destroyed. President Bush banned federal funding for such research for that reason in 2001 except for already existing cell lines.

The Supreme Court will determine whether each amendment conforms to a requirement that initiatives cover a single subject and if their ballot summaries are clear and accurate. The justices have not yet scheduled oral argument on either proposal.

[Last modified December 1, 2006, 00:52:44]

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