Monday, May 3, 2010

South Dakota Senate Rejects Effort to Undermine Embryonic

South Dakota Senate Rejects Effort to Undermine Embryonic Stem Cell Ban

PIERRE, South Dakota, February 4, 2010 ( – The South Dakota Senate voted down a bill Tuesday that would have sabotaged the state’s ban on embryonic stem-cell research.

The Senate rejected S.B. 74 by a 21 - 12 margin, after the bill was substantially revised to permit South Dakotans to access embryonic stem cell treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The original bill intended to throw out South Dakota’s ban on embryonic stem cell research and treatments entirely and replace it with a set of “ethical guidelines” by which research and treatments could be carried out.

The proposed legal restrictions included a ban on human cloning, but defined “human cloning” mainly in reproductive terms, leaving some ambiguity over whether scientists could perform human cloning for therapeutic purposes.

The bill also forbade the purchase or sale of “human blastocysts or eggs for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures,” prohibited the creation of human embryos “by fertilization” for the sole purpose of ESCR, and required documented written informed consent.

However, the penalties for violating the law were criticized for being exceptionally light, especially considering the millions of dollars researchers have at their disposal. The bill stated that violators of the law would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. In South Dakota, a Class 1 misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of “one year imprisonment in a county jail or two thousand dollars fine, or both.”

The original bill also erroneously defined “stem-cell research” to apply only to stem-cell research derived from human embryos, to the exclusion of adult stem-cells or stem-cells derived from umbilical cord blood. The latter two forms of stem-cell research are considered free of the ethical problems that dog ESCR, and unlike ESCR have delivered a host of scientifically proven therapies and cures.

But after enduring blistering testimony on the failure of ESCR to provide any practical results, especially in comparison to proven therapies that do not have ESCR’s ethical baggage, the Senate Health and Human services gutted the bill.

Bob Ellis, a writer for the conservative Dakota Voice explained that "the original bill had been a direct assault on the ban on ESCR. However, it became apparent from the damning scientific testimony before the Health and Human Services Committee against embryonic stem cell research and for adult stem cell research that the bill was about to go down in total flames."

"The prime sponsor Senator Ben Nesslhuff then offered to gut the bill and replace the outright attack on the ban with a much weaker measure which might serve as a 'foot in the door' to get the results of ESCR into the state,” he explained.

The amended bill instead read only that “nothing in this chapter prohibits the use of any Food and Drug Administration approved treatments derived from or involving human embryonic stem cells."

The committee then approved the bill 4-2 before handing it off to the South Dakota legislature where it was handily rejected.

The Associated Press reports that former state Treasurer David Volk of Sioux Falls had suspended a petition drive to put the state ban on the November ballot for public vote, while the legislature debated the issue. However, he may now revive those efforts.

But South Dakota appears likely to benefit from steering clear of ESCR, if the experience of the near-bankrupt State of California offers any lesson. Back in 2004, California’s government pumped $3 billion into research at California's Institute for Regenerative Medicine, seeking some medical use for stem cells harvested from human embryos, which are killed in the process.

However after years of fruitless work and facing the prospect of total failure, the Institute has now quietly diverted funds away from ESCR to adult stem cell research – which has already produced at least 73 documented therapies and cures for maladies ranging from spinal cord injury, to Alzheimer's, to Type I diabetes.

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