May 27, 2005

Massachusetts Governor Vetoes Stem Cell Bill

BOSTON -- Governor Mitt Romney vetoed a bill Friday to expand stem cell experiments in Massachusetts because it would allow the cloning of human embryos - a practice he has called morally wrong.

However, the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed the bill by big enough margins to override his veto when lawmakers take up the measure again next week.

Romney, a Republican, supports research using either adult stem cells or cells extracted from leftover frozen embryos from fertility clinics. But he has urged lawmakers to ban cloning, because extracting the stem cells destroys the embryos. He has said that amounts to creating human life only to destroy it.

"It is wrong to allow science to take an assembly-line approach to the production of human embryos, the creation of which will be rooted in experimentation and destruction," Romney wrote in a letter to lawmakers explaining the veto.

Romney, often mentioned as a potential candidate for president in 2008, had also urged lawmakers to include language defining the beginning of life as the moment of conception, banning the production of embryos for other research purposes and limiting compensation to women who donate their eggs. The Legislature rejected all four amendments.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Robert Travaglini, who introduced the bill, had no immediate comment.

Under existing Massachusetts law, scientists who want to conduct embryonic stem cell research first need approval from the local district attorney. The bill would remove that requirement and give the state Health Department some regulatory controls.

The bill would also ban cloning for reproductive purposes, but that practice is already prohibited under federal law.

Romney's opposition puts him at odds with some of the top university and research facilities in Massachusetts, including the newly formed Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Researchers there are looking to compete with institutions in California, where voters last year approved $3 billion in spending on stem cell research over the next 10 years.

The veto comes days after the U.S. House passed a bill that would ease restrictions on the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. The bill now goes to the Senate; President Bush has threatened a veto.

Stem cells from human embryos are the building blocks that give rise to every type of tissue in the body. Stem cells also exist in adults and in the blood from umbilical cords, but those cells are considered to be less versatile.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say it could someday yield treatments or cures for spinal cord injuries and such diseases as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Religious groups oppose the research, saying that it destroys human life.