New Jersey’s controversial stem-cell research law, passed earlier this week by the state Assembly is likely to become state law tomorrow, say pro-life opponents of what they have long nicknamed the “clone-and-kill bill.”

Although Liz Ortiz of the governor’s office said she had “no information” as to when Gov. James McGreevey would sign the bill, New Jersey Right to Life Public and Legislative Affairs Director Marie Tasy said an inside source alerted her that the governor plans to sign it into law Sunday. The bill, S1909/A2840, would become effective immediately.

In a telephone interview, Tasy said the global and national implications of the bill are “horrific.” In a press statement, she wrote, “Under this bill, human lives will be treated as a commodity, creating classes of lesser humans to be sacrificed. …”

Last Monday, the Assembly passed the bill that would make that state the second in the nation, after California, to permit embryonic stem-cell research.

Shortly after George W. Bush became president, Congress restricted research on cells taken from embryos since 2001, while allowing research on certain previously harvested “strains” of cells. Under the new law, New Jersey’s pharmaceutical biomedical firms could experiment on live cells from embryos discarded at fertility clinics.

Pro-life groups and Catholic leaders campaigned to block the bill – even declaring success last February when the New Jersey Assembly voted at the last minute to kill the bill – after the Senate had passed it and the governor said he’d sign it. This time, however, the bill has passed both houses and it awaits the governor’s promised signature.

Stem cells, which are created in the first few days of life, are “undifferentiated” and can therefore be induced artificially to grow into different types of tissue, prompting researchers to believe they hold the key to the creation of new treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Since stem cells can be harvested only by destroying a fetus shortly after fertilization, such legislation has been fiercely opposed by anti-abortion groups.

Widespread opposition

Describing the effect of the legislation as “breathtaking, unprecedented and widely regarded as morally disastrous,” Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley says “the legislation authorizes commercial traffic in the body parts of human beings ‘cultivated’ (the bill’s word) up to the moment of birth.” Bradley added, “Since the only way to ‘cultivate’ embryos is by implantation in a woman’s womb, the bills expressly authorize payment for ‘implantation’ and ‘transplantation’ of embryos.”

Four members of the President’s Council on Bioethics wrote McGreevey expressing “grave concern” about the bill, when it was being considered by the state Senate. Council members William Hurlbut of Stanford University, Robert George of Princeton, Alfonso Gomez of Georgetown University, and Gilbert Meilanander of Valpuaiso University, all medical doctors, signed the letter:

Please pause to consider whose cadaver the tissue is to be derived from. It is … a human being – who would be brought into being by cloning and, presumably, implanted and permitted to develop to the desired stage of physical maturation for the purpose of being killed for the harvesting of his or her tissues.

And in a dramatic appeal late yesterday, three of New Jersey’s U.S. representatives – Chris Smith, Mike Ferguson and Scott Garrett – implored their state’s governor to reconsider signing the bill:

We urge the governor take a step back from a historic and troubling threshold that ought not be crossed lightly.

The bill being considered for signature on McGreevey’s desk would not only allow the cloning of human beings for research purposes, but would also allow cloned human embryos to be implanted into a woman’s womb, allow the cloned human to develop to the fetal stage, and then use this human child for research where he or she could be killed for their “spare parts.”

This legislation will launch New Jersey blindly into the vanguard of terrible human-rights violations and grisly human experimentation. We are literally facing the prospect of creating a human clone, and implanting this cloned baby into a woman’s womb. Once this happens, nothing can stop the world’s first human clone from being born and starting a horrible new era of human history.

As advocates for increased funding to support life-affirming biomedical research, we fully understand the drive to cure debilitating diseases and to improve health care for those who are suffering. But allowing human fetus farms for research is not an ethical or practical solution.

Rather, the priority should be to fund the most ethical and the most promising avenues of research – adult stem cell research – which could find cures that will not exploit human life and incite controversy. Each dollar that goes toward projects that clone humans and destroy human life at its earliest stage of development takes away from ethical research that is moving forward at an incredible rate and that does not have the ethical baggage attached to human cloning.

Furthermore, proponents of human cloning used a lame duck session to jam through the most extreme legislation in the country. We commend the significant number of Assembly members who voted against this deeply flawed bill, and we urge the governor to step back from the brink of a wholly preventable disaster.

The use of adult stem cell and cord blood stem cell research is ethical and successful. Adult stem cells are already being used to successfully treat humans suffering from cancers, autoimmune diseases, anemias, immunodeficiencies, bone and cartilage deformities, corneal scarring, stroke, heart damage, Parkinson’s, and skin damage.

Adult and cord blood stem cells are able to generate virtually all tissue types; they can multiply almost indefinitely to be used for treatment; they have proven successful in laboratory culture and in animal models; and they have the ability to find and repair damage. Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells do not cause tumors, and they do not have the problem of transplant rejection.

Meanwhile, Colleen Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life, and other pro-life leaders are urging constituents to express their concern over passage of the bill to the governor’s office.

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