After the passage yesterday of Proposal 2, which amended the state’s constitution to loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, University researchers will now be able to derive their own embryonic stem cell lines.
The ballot initiative passed narrowly with 52 percent of the vote, with 91 percent of the precincts reporting as of 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. It overturns a 1978 Michigan law banning the destruction of human embryos. Michigan’s ban on cloning remains intact.
Scientists at the University have been conducting embryonic stem cell research with lines derived in other states, but the new amendment will allow them to start deriving lines from fertility clinic embryos that would otherwise be discarded.
Opponents of the initiative have cited precedent from other states to argue that the new law could lead lawmakers to spend public money on stem cell research, and argued that the ballot language is vague enough that it would not adequately prohibit the misuse of human embryos.
Proponents of the measure say the initiative will enable research in Michigan that could lead to cures for diseases like Juvenile Diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease.
“We’re very pleased with the vote today,” said Chris DeWitt, spokesman for Cure Michigan, the campaign advocating the ballot initiative. “This has helped bring our state in line with 45 other states for stem cell research.”
Cure Michigan started its campaign initiative over a year ago when Rick Johnson, former speaker of the state House of Representatives, Detroit Attorney Linda Bloch, former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) and Richard Whitmer, a former chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield formed a committee to push for a ballot initiative. Previous legislation introduced to state Congress failed to pass, and the committee members decided to leave the decision up to voters.
The campaign collected 570,016 signatures before July 7, the deadline for a proposed amendment to make it on the ballot. That same day, Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation released a statement against the ballot initiative.
Because the University is a state institution, it cannot take an official stance on the proposal. But that hasn’t stopped it from hosting a series of “educational” events on the issue. Many University researchers and administrators personally endorsed Proposal 2, including Sean Morrison, director of the University’s Center for Stem Cell Biology, and University President Mary Sue Coleman.
Students at the polls yesterday generally supported the ballot initiative.
“Stem cell research is really important for medical advances,” said LSA junior Lorna Song. “It’s in everyone’s interest.”
— Thomas Chan contributed to this report.