Just when President Obama is attempting to open the federal door on all forms of stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cells (hESC), Texas right wing fundamentalists are trying to close the state door, specifically on hESC.
The Texas Legislature meets every other year for exactly 140 calendar days. The 81st Texas Legislature opened its doors for business on January 13. Traditionally, a major consideration of the Senate Finance Committee is the state budget, referred to as Senate Bill 1 (SB 1). This year proved a little different than previous sessions. From out of nowhere, the chairman of the Finance Committee, Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, introduced a rider amendment (rider) to SB 1. The wording on the rider is blunt and to the point:
"No funds appropriated under this Act shall be used in conjunction with or to support any activity whatsoever, including research, which involves the destruction of a human embryo."
Sound familiar? It's the same fishy odor as that of the Dickey Amendment at the federal level. Only now, it's wrapped in state paper. The effect of the rider would be to forbid using state money for responsible medical research using embryonic stem cells derived from fertilized eggs destined to be discarded by IVF clinics. The rider would also ban embryonic stem cell research allowed by President Bush's executive order at public universities and other institutions in Texas.
To make "double-dog" sure (remember, this is good ole boy legislation, involving backstabbing and intrigue. Right, Senator Nelson?) that he could do all he could to torpedo Texas hESC research, Senator Ogden, along with Senator Dan Patrick, introduced SB 1695:
"A person may not use state money or a facility owned, leased, or managed by a state agency, department or office for research involving the destruction of human embryos, including embryonic stem cell research, or to support research involving the destruction of human embryos."
The SB is more broadly written than the rider. The SB would unequivocally end all embryonic stem cell research, along with any in-vitro fertilization (IVF) research in any of the laboratories of our state. Even private institutions like Baylor College of Medicine would be affected because they receive state funding.
A recent national poll showed that over 60% of America supports hESC research. A Texas poll showed 55% in favor. We have just swept out the federal theocrats that spent the last eight years attacking and stifling hESC. Have we come this far in freeing up this essential form of research only to be confronted by attempts to impose these same crippling prohibitions at the state level?
Beware America: Texas is just the beginning. Any state that hasn't already bolstered its research foundation with pro-hESC legislation will be fighting the same battle as that going on in Texas now. Our goal is to preserve a state research policy that is based on logic, principle, and the scientific method rather than our opposition's policy which is polluted by the fundamentalists' twisted interpretations of the same witch-hunt doctrines that put Copernicus on trial, endorsed the Inquisition, and launched the Crusades. The world is not flat and we are not at the center of the universe.
Even if we lose the battle here in Texas, perhaps we have given the rest of America a little time to prepare for the state-to-state skirmishes about to break out across the nation's legislatures.
Footnote for my neighbor Rev. Dr. Ed Young and my state senator Dan Patrick: God is on our side, the side of real people, not little balls of cells which have been barred from ever entering a uterus and which, by any ontological definition, are not people. In the Scriptures, Jesus spends at least a third of his ministry making the crippled walk and the blind see. Already, there is an FDA-approved study to utilize precursor embryonic derived stem cells (derived using excess IVF embryos) to repair human spinal cord injury. Is that the legacy you want to leave, Dan? That you were the champion of a ball of cells no bigger than the eye of a needle? I'll take the role of champion to that GI who can't walk because of the shrapnel he took in his spine while protecting you and me. I think God would rather have that GI walk again, and has given me the intelligence to pursue embryonic stem cell related research to try to accomplish that goal. And I don't think God wants to waste those IVF embryos just washed down the drain as medical waste. I think God wants them used for the many, many cures they can provide. No scriptural passage gives you the right to deny the rewards that this essential research promises to literally hundreds of millions of otherwise hopeless real people. Dr. Young, when does ensoulment occur? You must think it occurs at conception. But that's just a modern concept flawed in many respects. I contend that ensoulment doesn't take place until after day 14 of fetal development. Other great religions say that the entire first 40 days is a "period of water" with no ensoulment. Until 1863, the entire Catholic Church believed according to the logic of St Thomas that ensoulment didn't take place until quickening, that's anywhere from 17 to 19 weeks gestation. So what gives either of you the right to superimpose your beliefs over mine and all the Catholic Popes that reigned? What gives you the right to deny the major hope for a cure held by millions of chronically ill people?