In November 2008, Michigan voters took socially progressive action when they voted in favor of a ballot initiative that loosened restrictions on stem cell research in the state. Since then, the state and the University have made promising progress in stem cell research. But those strides may soon be halted as legislation, which would redefine a crucial component of the ballot initiative, makes its way to the Senate floor. The legislation would be detrimental to the progress of stem cell research across the state. In order to continue to lead in this research, the state Senate shouldn’t handcuff researchers by approving legislation that would limit stem cell research.

The proposed legislation would alter the term “not suitable for implantation” of the ballot initiative. According to a Feb. 26 article in the Daily, the current proposal states that embryos aren’t suitable for implementation if they have defects or diseases. Under the proposed legislation, the classification of “unsuitable” would also apply to embryos that lack wouldn’t successfully develop.

Some critics of the proposal, like Sean Morrison, director of the University’s Center for Stem Cell Biology Research, believe that it could stop researchers from finding potential cures as more embryos are discarded. He points out that this legislation might “force patients to throw away embryos” instead of “donating them for stem cell research.” Proponents of the legislation, like state Sen. Tom George (R–Kalamazoo), chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, claim that the new legislation would clear up the language used in the ballot initiative.

Ballot initiatives are admittedly often too vaguely worded to operate properly and require more legislation to specify them. But the legislation before the state Senate operates counter to the intent of the ballot initiative by restricting stem cell research. This legislation would limit the research that Michigan residents sought to encourage when they passed the ballot initiative, and the Senate shouldn’t take action that would directly contradict the will of the voters.

The new legislation would also be a disservice to University research. The 2008 ballot initiative allowed the University to expand its research facilities and attract researchers. Greater restrictions would limit the University’s ability to move these efforts forward. The legislation before the state Senate would damage Michigan’s efforts to lead stem cell research.

Most importantly, the legislation would hinder stem cell research that could lead to monumental breakthroughs in medical science. Continued developments in stem cell research could help save lives and find cures to detrimental diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease, juvenile diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The state Senate shouldn’t stall these critical advances.

The state Senate must realize the negative effects of the legislation before reaching a final decision that could very well hinder stem cell research efforts in Michigan. State legislators shouldn’t take any action that would slow the progress of this vital research that is badly needed both by this downtrodden state and by the millions of people whose lives this work could one day improve.

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