Pro-life coalition opposed bill’s stem cell research provision

HOUSTON–School funding legislation was the focus during the 79th Texas Legislature, but a provision attached to a capital projects bill had advocates on both sides of the embryonic stem cell research issue lobbying legislators in the last weeks of the second special session.

House Bill 6 drew attention for a provision critics say could have facilitated future state-funded embryonic stem cell research. The bill itself would have allocated $2.75 billion in capital improvement bonds within university systems throughout Texas.

As of the TEXAN’s deadline, HB 6 had not been acted on.

The contentious provision read, “The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: (A) $41,100,000 for facilities to be used primarily to conduct biomedical research. …”

Biomedical research, as requested by UT-Houston, would be stem cell research. In his request to the Legislature for the bond money, UT-Houston President James T. Willerson said taxpayer funds would be used to continue current research utilizing adult stem cells. But pro-life advocates like Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life Coalition, objected to the language because it did not exclude future use of embryonic stem cells.

To gather support for the coalition’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research, Wright organized a group of pro-life organizations and individuals called Texans for Ethical Research. They signed onto a letter distributed by hand to members of the Texas House and Senate Aug. 5 and 8 in an attempt to stave off passage of HB 6. As of Aug. 12, the bill had not passed. The special legislative session was scheduled to end at midnight Aug. 20.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards added his name to the list of 65 signatures as a show of the convention’s support for laws banning embryonic stem cell research. The letter requested that the Texas Legislature amend HB 6 “to ensure that public funds are used only for biomedical research that does not involve human embryonic stem cells or the destruction of human embryos.”

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, introduced similar language in a bill that was never voted on in the last regular session.

Wright said she is troubled that no anti-cloning or anti-embryonic stem cell research measure managed to reach a vote, despite Gov. Rick Perry’s stated support of both issues. Without such laws, Wright said it would be easy for scientists to follow the lead of foreign researchers who have announced making advances in human cloning technology.

The idea of human cloning is an abhorrent concept to most people, but the bar of compromise keeps moving, she contended. If research is not restrained by ethical standards, she said cloning could be called by another name and accepted as a common medical practice.

“This is what happens when we’re not tethered to God. Science is ahead of our culture when it comes to abandoning God.”

With embryo research supporters vying for the ears of legislators, Wright said it is difficult to wage a meaningful fight. She was competing against the sway of influential physicians and scientists lobbying for embryonic stem cell research. There was, she added, an automatic presumption of authority for academics who testified. “They have the degrees and positions to be heard by the legislators.”

Moreover, emotional arguments and arguments about the “greater good” further cloud the issue. “They had people in wheelchairs in regular session lobbying for this.”

“It’s had to make the case for humanity from a petri dish,” she added.

Wright said infants who have been adopted as embryos from fertility clinics may be the only useful emotional appeal pro-lifers can make against destructive embryo research. These “snowflake” embryos otherwise would have been discarded or used for stem cell research.

Wright and other pro-life organizations have reiterated the fact that they are not opposed to adult stem cell research—a proven technology currently undergoing FDA testing in the field of cardiovascular clinical research in Houston.

According to the UT Houston website, the Texas Heart Institute and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in collaboration with UT-Houston will conduct the first clinical trial in the United States using Adult stem cell therapy in treating heart disease. The trial was approved based on the success of Willerson and his colleague Emerson Person with a test subject in Brazil.

Willerson said in a statement that adult stem cell research tends to be confused with embryonic stem cell research and therefore rejected by the public.

“Adult stem cell therapy will ultimately provide effective curative treatments for heart attacks, strokes, dementia, kidney and liver diseases, and many other devastating diseases, as well as for catastrophic injuries that result in paralysis. Adult stem cell research will help to revolutionize biomedical research and how we deal with injuries and diseases that, today, wreak havoc on our friends and families.”

It is such research and treatment that Texans for Life Coalition and the SBTC support, according to their letter to the Texas Legislature. But it is the lack of assurances that state tax dollars will not be used for research that requires the destruction of an embryo that has pro-life advocates concerned.

“We’re all for stem cell research,” Wright said. “Just don’t kill the donor.”


TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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