COLUMBUS - State government would be prohibited from investing in stem-cell research resulting in the destruction of a human embryo under a controversial bill that passed the Ohio Senate yesterday by a vote of 21-11.
The measure extends to all state funding limits imposed by Gov. Bob Taft's July executive order affecting only his Third Frontier program targeting high-tech and biomedical research.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana), also enacts a ban on human cloning with the exception of research that might lead to the creation of replacement cells or organs that does not involve creating and destroying new embryos.
Mr. Jordan, an ardent pro-life advocate, said he would have liked to have gone further, prohibiting research on even those stem-cell lines that President Bush exempted from his order involving federal dollars.
"Preferably, I would not have that language in there," he said. "But that's in the bill."
Two Republicans, Sens. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) and David Goodman (R., Columbus), opposed the bill, offsetting two "yes" votes from Democrats, Sens. Tom Roberts (D., Dayton) and Charlie Wilson (D., St. Clairsville).
Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss (D., Cleveland), whose mother has Alzheimer's disease, took issue with the contention that the bill protects both human life and taxpayer dollars.
"An investment that protects life is an investment that embraces research and allows us to protect that life," she said.
Research involving embryonic stem cells is considered promising by scientists because cells in such an early stage of development have yet to specialize into particular types of cells.
Scientists theorize these cells could be triggered to develop into specific types of cells to fight such diseases as Alzheimer's and diabetes or to treat spinal-cord damage.
Although research on the original stem-cell lines identified by President Bush is taking place at Ohio State University and Case Western Reserve University, it has yet to receive Third Frontier funding. The $1.6 billion program, boosted by $500 million in borrowing recently approved by voters, has funded projects associated with adult stem-cell research, research that supporters of the ban contend has produced more results than embryonic stem cells.
"I am entirely supportive of adult stem-cell research that has already resulted in numerous medical breakthroughs without destroyed life," Mr. Jordan said. "Clearly, there are plenty of advancements to be made and discoveries to be found through life-affirming studies that do not involve the unethical and immoral practice of embryonic stem-cell research."
Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland) objected to the debate being labeled as science versus life, arguing that his Jewish faith considers an embryo to be "potential" life, not a living human being.
"The same God that created that embryo created the miracle of its ability to differentiate and to create cures," he said. "That same God also created scientists who have vision and have the ability to see things that have never been seen. That's not some brain cell. That's a soul. That's a God-given talent."
The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Mike Gilb (R., Findlay) has introduced a bill that goes slightly further than Mr. Jordan's, imposing criminal penalties on those violating the human cloning provisions.