The outcome of Proposal 2, a ballot initiative that would loosen the state’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, could have huge implications for both the University of Michigan and the state as a whole.
If passed, the proposal would overturn a 1978 Michigan law, banning researchers in Michigan from obtaining their own stem cell lines from embryos donated by fertility treatment centers.
These embryos would only be donated if they would be otherwise discarded. Michigan’s ban on cloning would not be affected by the proposal.
Sean Morrison, director of the University’s Center for Stem Cell Biology, said Proposal 2, if passed, would create broader research opportunities in the state.
“We will be able to expand our research programs into embryonic stem cell research, take new approaches in treating disease, and we’ll have a better opportunity to compete for grants from the federal government and private organizations that are currently funding embryonic stem cell research,” he said.
Sue O’Shea, director of the Michigan Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, said passing Proposal 2 would impact on students.
“It would allow us to train our students to do that kind of work, which I currently cannot allow our students to do because I can’t train them,” O’Shea said.
Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation (MiCAUSE), a group opposed to Proposal 2, offers several reasons why the initiative shouldn’t pass. In advertisements, the group has argued that passing Proposal 2 would raise taxes to conduct the research.
According to the MiCAUSE website, Proposal 2 contains “deceptive language, which alludes to the allowance of cloning human embryos.” In addition, the site claims that the proposal permits unregulated research on live human embryos, which means that cells can be taken from embryos more than 14 days after cell division.
It’s unlikely that Proposal 2 would have those effects, though. The proposal explicitly prohibits taking cells from embryos more than 14 days after cell division and says it won’t change Michigan’s prohibition on human cloning. The proposal also doesn’t allocate any state money to fund stem cell research.
If Proposal 2 fails, Morrison said, the University would continue to struggle in its efforts to recruit stem cell researchers to campus.
“If Michigan wants to have a life sciences sector, it can’t achieve that by having policies that are hostile to some of the most exciting opportunities in life sciences,” Morrison said.