Stem cell bill passes state Senate

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — For the second year in a row, a bill authorizing stem cell research on embryos in New Mexico has been narrowly approved by the state Senate.

The vote was 20-18 for the measure supported by Gov. Bill Richardson.

The legislation would allow research only on embryos slated to be destroyed at fertility clinics.

It now goes to the House, where opponents — including the state’s Roman Catholic bishops — will try to kill it. A similar bill that passed the Senate in 2007 died in the House Judiciary Committee.

The work on embryonic stem cells would be done at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, where research already is under way using adult stem cells.

Richardson is separately asking the Legislature to allocate $2 million to UNM to recruit researchers and jump-start the new program.
Unlike many controversial issues that break down along party lines, there were Democrats and Republicans on both sides of Monday’s vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Albuquerque Republican Sen. John Ryan, said embryonic stem cell research “is the hope for many people in New Mexico and across the country” who suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

“The clock is ticking for our loved ones who have these diseases, and we cannot afford further delay,” said Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque.

Couples who have leftover embryos at in vitro fertilization clinics could donate them for research rather than have them discarded by the clinics, under the legislation. Cloning would be prohibited.

Lawmakers portrayed their opposition as a pro-life stance.

Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, said she did “not want to be accused in my re-election of being a baby killer.”

“This is most clearly murder. This is a live human, and we are taking away that life,” said Senate Republican Whip Leonard Lee Rawson of Las Cruces.

But GOP Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell argued that neither position on the bill could be considered pro-life: In either scenario, embryos would be destroyed. A vote for the bill was the better of the two choices, he said, and “might give the gift of life to someone in the future.”

Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the church regards it as a pro-life issue because it objects to “giving our state the authority to take human life.”

Richardson applauded the Senate, saying it “recognized that our clinical research laws are out of date, and we should move forward to conduct potentially life-saving research under careful conditions and important restrictions.”
The stem cell bill is SB23.
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