February 10, 2005

Governor Weighs in on Stem Cell Bill

BOSTON (AP) -- Gov. Mitt Romney, who has voiced past support for stem cell research, told Massachusetts legislative leaders Thursday he believes some embryonic stem cell science "crosses the boundary of ethics."

Romney detailed his concerns for the first time publicly in a letter to the state Senate president, who introduced a bill this week to eliminate ambiguities in state law that discourage such research.

Romney said state law should prohibit the creation of human embryos for the purpose of research. Sen. Robert Travaglini's bill would not.

"Respect for human life is a fundamental element of a civilized society," Romney wrote. "Lofty goals do not justify the creation of life for experimentation or destruction."

The first-term Republican, whose wife has multiple sclerosis, has previously said that he supports stem cell research and would try to attract biotech companies to the state.

He also expressed his concerns in an interview with The New York Times published Thursday.

"My wife has M.S., and we would love for there to be a cure for her disease and for the diseases of others," he told the newspaper. "But there is an ethical boundary that should not be crossed."

Ann Romney, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, has said she favors stem cell research if it is done "morally and ethically."

For supporters, embryonic stem cell research holds the promise of cures for debilitating diseases. Foes say the potential benefits aren't worth sacrificing human embryos.

Language dating to the 1970s in a law that prohibited fetal experimentation has left some confusion over the legal footing for researchers using embryonic stem cells, which generally are gathered from donated embryos created at fertility clinics.

State Sen. Cindy Creem, one of sponsors of the bill introduced Wednesday, said legal ambiguities have forced stem cell researchers at Harvard University to spend extra money to prove to prosecutors that their work was not illegal.

Romney told the Times that some research practices at Harvard and other institutions in Massachusetts probably go too far ethically.

Romney said he would support research on stem cells taken from surplus embryos created as part of an in vitro fertilization process if they would be otherwise discarded and if there is no compensation and clear parental rights are established.

Travaglini's bill would ban human reproductive cloning and create an advisory committee to address ethical issues and establish safeguards for those donating stem cells.

"Our research community stands on the threshold of great advances in the fight against disabling childhood and degenerative diseases, but has been held back by cloudy legal policy on stem cell research," Travaglini said Wednesday. He did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

The Boston Democrat has previously said Massachusetts is in danger of losing biotechnology research to states like California, where voters last year approved a $3 billion bond to fund stem cell research over the next decade.