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Stem cell research: Not in my state!

Texas State Sen. Steve Ogden

A legislator in Texas has pushed forward a measure that could significantly limit future embryonic stem cell research in his state.

State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, included into the Texas Senate’s budget bill an amendment that would ban state funding from supporting research involving the destruction of human embryos.

Earlier this month, President Obama issued an executive order permitting federal funding of the controversial research, but Ogden’s amendment could cause scientists to think twice before experimenting on embryos in Texas.

Ogden explained to the Dallas Morning News, “There is a significant moral concern amongst many Texans that a human embryo really meets every scientific definition of human life that’s out there and that we shouldn’t be using human embryos for scientific experiments.”

Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, commended Ogden’s efforts.

Graham told WND, “Senator Ogden is moving in the right direction in protecting Texas taxpayers from paying for research that destroys human embryos.”

Supporters of the research, however, fear the amendment, if passed through the Legislature’s final version of the budget, would damage Texas’ reputation in the scientific community.

“Such an amendment would be detrimental to Texas,” wrote a group of 18 of the state’s scientists in a statement sent to the Legislature yesterday. “A ban would halt ongoing research projects and negatively impact the ability of Texas academic health institutions, both public and private, to competitively recruit and retain world-class scientists, professors and students in the biological sciences.”

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, also opposes the ban on state funding of embryonic stem cell research.

“We should embrace science, particularly science that’s going to lead to the treatment and cure of disease,” Watson told the Houston Chronicle. “We hold ourselves out to be a state that’s open to wanting to attract the greatest researchers in the world, but we send a very negative message with something of this nature.”

Graham, however, believes that Ogden’s efforts could help make Texas – which was ranked the No. 2 pro-life state in the country by World Magazine in 2004 – a draw for scientists who also have ethical concerns about human embryos.

“It’s very difficult for a scientist or researcher who wants to uphold the sanctity of life to find a clean research practice,” Graham told WND. “Because there are so many ethical issues in biomedical research, many scientists are looking for ways to be progressive researchers and pioneers without jeopardizing their ethical convictions. I think Texas could be a beacon to attracting researchers who want to uphold the sanctity of life while furthering advancements in medical science.”

Some opponents of the measure also worry the language of the amendment is broad enough to prohibit all embryonic stem cell research in state facilities, even experiments funded by the federal government.

Ogden, however, downplays the effects of the measure, saying it simply makes “explicit what was already the implicit state policy.”

“In absence of clear state policy,” Ogden told the Chronicle, “the rider just says we’re not going to use state funds to destroy human embryos.”

Graham also conceded that while Ogden’s measure would stop state-funded embryonic research, federally funded experiments could still continue in Texas.

Ogden’s amendment to the state budget reads, “No funds appropriated under this act shall be used in conjunction with or to support research which involves the destruction of a human embryo.”

The 24-word budget rider narrowly passed the Texas Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 6-5 and will be included in the full budget bill to be debated in the Texas Senate Wednesday. The state’s House is still developing its own budget bill.