One year ago, Michigan voters passed Proposal 2, which allowed for an expansion of stem cell research and potentially millions of dollars in private investments and federal funding to be poured into the state.
But last week, the state Senate’s Health Policy Committee proposed a package of bills that seek to establish reporting requirements for researchers who use embryonic stem cells, set penalties for violated regulations and clarify the supposedly vague language of Proposal 2.
Researchers and other proponents of embryonic stem cell research have said these bills defy the will made clear by last year’s voters and the bills are an attempt to strongly restrict research, potentially halting life-saving progress and allowing Michigan’s economy to lose the millions of dollars that potentially could be gained.
But although we understand the concerns of those against the bill, we think that they largely amount to overreactions. The voters made their will known last year when they eased restrictions of embryonic stem cell research in the state, but objectively, the language of the proposal was very vague. It’s important to note that embryonic stem cell research was just as legal in Michigan before the passage of Proposal 2 as it is today; it’s the restrictions — or lack thereof — that were at issue.
Reporting requirements, penalties for violations and a clarification of language are not bad things and, in principle, should not restrict the progress and benefits that stem cell research can provide. We all expect our scientists to be ethical in their research, and these bills just establish and reinforce a few requirements and penalties just in case researchers are tempted to cross the line.
A major fear of opponents to the bill is that the largely Republican Legislature is trying to backtrack on what the voters already approved and that such definitions and requirements are in defiance of the voters’ wishes, namely unrestricted research.
But the average voter doesn’t have the capacity, time or interest to define such regulations. There are some very real dangers to having unrestricted research, particularly on animals and embryos. Setting up guidelines won’t hamper progress; it simply will keep researchers and scientists accountable for their actions.
We have no doubt that MSU researchers are ethical and responsible, but it’s the private sector that often has less regulation and it wouldn’t be a bad thing if private researchers and companies knew the government was looking over their shoulder.
Admittedly, many Republicans are opposed to the creation of embryos for research. Some might indeed wish embryonic stem cell research was illegal, and this concern surrounds the basic idea that embryos are human lives. When they look at the issue with this view, it’s only understandable that they would seek to define and make sure that nothing unethical or dangerous occurs in the name of research.
But should any legislation appear that would seek to make embryonic stem cell research illegal, voters will not take it sitting down. But for the time being, the bills’ goal of clarifying what is deemed as acceptable research is an admirable one.
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