House panel votes to stall stem cell research measure

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 10:48 p.m.
Don't expect Florida to join the growing ranks of states that are using public funds to support stem cell research.
A bill, which would have provided $150 million over 10 years for stem cell research, stalled in a House committee on Wednesday, with lawmakers saying it is doubtful the measure will pass this year.
But supporters of the bill say they will continue to raise the issue since the research holds the promise for curing many debilitating diseases, ranging from diabetes to paralysis.
Opponents, including the Florida Baptist Convention and the Florida Catholic Conference, say they won't support the measure if it allows the destruction of embryos.
The House Health Care Regulation Committee voted to take no action on House Bill 233, sponsored by Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, that would have represented the state's first effort to fund research related to embryonic stem cells.
The state currently restricts its funding to research involving adult stem cells and cells derived from placentas and umbilical cords. Proponents say the embryonic cells offer more research opportunities and potentially more cures for diseases.
"There are so many good things that could come out of this bill," Sands said.
It would also keep Florida competitive with other states that are moving forward with embryonic stem cell research after President George W. Bush banned federal funding for the programs in 2001. California has the most aggressive effort, launching a $3 billion research initiative.
House members heard emotional pleas Wednesday from disease and accident victims who believe they could benefit from increased stem cell research.
Gilles Attipoe, a 13-year-old Boynton Beach resident who has diabetes, told the health-care panel that there are thousands of children like him who are waiting for research breakthroughs. Attipoe, who was diagnosed with his disease at the age of 5 and has to prick his finger six times a day to test his blood sugars, said it could change his life.
"Each day that goes by without pursuing the breakthroughs that can come from stem cell research is another day of pin pricks (for me)," he said.
Faye Armitage, a Jacksonville mother, pleaded for the bill on behalf her 15-year-old son, Jason, who was paralyzed as a 7-year-old in a soccer accident.
"We believe that embryonic stem cells are going to be the key to healing central nervous system disorders," she said.
While adult stem cell research offers some promise for other diseases, Armitage said embryonic cells, which can be grown to mimic any cell in the body, are needed for the research involving paralysis.
Religious groups told lawmakers that while they supported adult stem cell research, they opposed the bill because it would allow the destruction of embryos, which they consider a form of life.
"We do object to the notion that pursuing cures for some ever justifies intentionally destroying other human lives to achieve those cures," said Bill Bunkley, a lobbyist for the Baptist organization.
But Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said there is also the ethical issue of helping others who are suffering or dying.
"It's wrong to take a life," she said. "But I believe it's wrong morally not to help people."
Proponents also said the bill limits the use of embryos to those from in vitro fertilization clinics that would normally be discarded. The bill also requires the consent of the donors. But some committee members, including Health Care Regulation Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said they were troubled by the potential for destroying a life.
"We all have to look within ourselves," Garcia said. "(For me) life begins when there is a connection between the mother and the egg in the womb."
After the committee tabled action on the bill, Garcia said he didn't believe there were enough votes on his committee to support the measure. Even if it clears his panel, the bill would still have to win approval in four other House committees before it reached the floor.
Despite Wednesday's developments, Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, said he would still proceed with a similar bill in the Senate which he is co-sponsoring along with Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton.
"I have believed all my life that science is how we decode God's messages of health and healing," he said. "I'm not about to turn my back on a humane science that could lead to discoveries of a cure."
Although he opposed the bill, Garcia said the Legislature will have to continue to face the debate over stem cell research.
"This is an issue that's not going to die in this committee," he said. "We're going to be hearing it again and again."

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