POLITICAL “DECEPTI-CONS”:  Anti-stemcell Research Bills in Michigan

By Don C. Reed

In the fantasy movie TRANSFORMERS, evil robots called Decepti-cons pretend to be useful machines like trucks or helicopters– then changing into their real destructive form.

Political “Decepti-cons”,  anti-stem cell research laws, look harmless, even useful–  but could be cruel and destructive in their impact on our lives.

In Michigan, no less than six such bills are being hurled against stem cell research.

Quick background: in 2008, Michigan passed a state constitutional amendment called Proposal 2, which protected in law the scientific freedom to perform and benefit from stem cell research.

One Senator, Tom George (R-Kalamazoo), was bitterly opposed.

Senator George led the opposition to embryonic stem cell research, as Chairman of the group MiCAUSE, (Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation) funded by Right to Life Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference).

His group paid for a series of highly deceptive commercials.

One ad showed fake cloning companies, implying Proposal 2 would allow human cloning—although Proposal 2 clearly stated: “Article 1, Section 27, (1) Nothing in this section shall alter Michigan ’s current prohibition on human cloning.” (emphasis added).

Another ad showed bundles of money being shoveled into a wheelbarrow, implying Proposal 2 would cost the state money—but there was no funding in the bill at all.

Still another ad showed an actor in a cow costume, implying Proposal 2 was going to create a breed of half-man, half-animal–!

Trash like this flooded the airwaves.

Fortunately, Michiganders were not fooled.

Proposal 2 became law.

Even the voters of Senator George’s own district supported Proposal 2 by a substantial margin, 59-41%.

Apparently, Senator George could not accept the will of the voters.

He is now attacking the research another way:  Senate bills  647-652—a series of anti-research bills disguised as “clarification” of Proposal 2.


Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm put it well:

“…When reminded that Right to Life says it only wants to clarify the research law, Granholm shot back, “The people who are working on life sciences don’t think that   clarification helps, and, in fact, it may hinder it.”—MIRS, February 26, 2010.

Is more regulation needed?

Stem cell research may already be the most highly regulated science in America. Rules and guidelines come from every direction, including: Internal Review Boards (IRB) from the institutions like Michigan’s colleges; guidelines from the National Institutes of Health and the National Academies of Science; specific limitations written in Michigan law in Proposal 2;  Food and Drug Agency (FDA) laws, the Health and Human Services (HHS) department rules, and more.

Far from “clarifying” the research, the new bills would bury it in a morass of micromanagement.

Does it make sense to let a known enemy of the research re-write the stem cell laws?

What does the Senator have in mind? First, he makes any violation of the complicated new rules is a felony, not a misdemeanor, even for improper book-keeping: make a mistake, go to jail. And there’s a lot more. Here are a couple:

Senator George wants to publish the name and address of every scientist involved. What purpose can this serve, except intimidation? It is not difficult to imagine ideological protestors mobbing outside researchers’ homes, shrieking in their faces when they try to go to work. This unconscionable invasion of privacy could have tragic consequences, if some unhinged fanatic turned to violence.

Under these new laws, a doctor must certify that blastocysts used have less than a 50% chance of survival: a virtually impossible medical prediction. (This would also criminalize one of the most important goals of stem cell research: to make cellular models of chronic diseases, to study and defeat them in the Petri dish.)

Each individual microscopic blastocyst would need itemized records, written in detail—and remember, errors are felonies—with as much as a five year jail sentence.

The overall impact of these six “clarification” bills?

“Those bills would impede the development of the life sciences sector in Michigan…making it illegal to pursue mainstream forms of medical research that are widely accepted throughout the rest of the country,” Dr. (Sean) Morrison, who heads the University of Michigan’s Center for Stem Cell Biology, told the Associated Press.”—Jack Lessenberry, Toledo Blade, October 30, 2009

Why should Michigan do embryonic stem cell research?

Two reasons leap to mind: the first is personal.

On September 10, 1994, my son Roman Reed was playing a game of college football. As defense captain, a linebacker, he went in for one more tackle. An accident occurred, and his neck was broken.  At the age of nineteen, he was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

But stem cell research offers the hope of cure. California passed a law named after him, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

“Roman’s Law” paid for the first state-funded embryonic stem cell research in America, Dr. Hans Keirstead’s work at UC Irvine.

On March 1, 2002 , in the Roman Reed Lab, I held in my hand a rat which had been paralyzed, but which could now scamper around its exercise area. It had been given embryonic stem cells, “differentiated” to re-insulate damaged spinal nerves. That procedure will hopefully go to human trials with Geron Corporation this Summer

Christopher Reeve sent us a letter which read: “One day, Roman and I will stand up from our wheelchairs, and walk away from them forever.” Cure did not come in time for the paralyzed Superman, but our family still believes in that great dream.

Michigan Universities may help my son have a chance to walk again—him, and the million other people who are paralyzed in America—and the one hundred million citizens with “incurable” illness or injury.

The second reason? Jobs.

Biomedicine is still in its early stages, but few would deny its huge potential, like the beginning of computers.

Michigan should be part of this building economic wave.

It has already begun.

Since Proposal 2 guaranteed safety from political harassment, (or so it was believed, before Senator’s George’s bills) biomedical companies from around began to consider Michigan as a place to build their future.

Israel and Spain are establishing financial enterprises in the Wolverine State.

A stem cell Commercialization Center is being launched at Wayne State University Tech Town.

Gemma Diagnostics has been formed, using MSU technologies.

The World Stem Cell Summit will be held in Michigan this year—focusing international attention on the state as a good place to build.

In plain cash money, $6.8 million dollars in federal Recovery Grant funds for embryonic stem cell research has already come into Michigan. This opens the door to a whole lot more. Michigan scientists are eligible for “follow-on” grants, additional money, often much more than the original funding.

A scientist who has a small success can now apply for a larger grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—new money coming into the state.

I have seen it happen.

Remember that law named after my son?

Over 9 years, Roman’s law paid for $14 million in research—which brought in almost  $60 million from the NIH and other sources—new money for the state.

And the scientist who did the research? He has his own biomedical company now.

Even in the midst of a recession, Biomedicine has been growing: it is already the number two industry in California. In fact, we had to pass a special law (SB 471, Romero/Florez, the Stem Cell Research Education and Biomedical Training Force Development Act) to be sure we would have enough trained workers for new biomed jobs.

Michigan’s economy should not be shut out from such benefits.

Senate Bills 647-652 are trouble in disguise, like the movie villains Decepticons.

But with SB 647-652, the danger is not harmless thrills on a theater screen; the damage these laws could inflict is real, and permanent.

What needs to be done?

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) has it in his power to simply let these negative bills not come up. They serve no useful purpose, and may do a great deal of damage.

If you live in Michigan, (or even if you don’t) ask Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop to take NO ACTION on Senate Bills 647-652.  You can call his office at (517) 373-2417.

Also, contact your Michigan state legislators: calling, emailing, letting them know you stand behind Proposal 2.  The opposition forces are very strong, and their voices will be heard. So must ours: the families of loved ones suffering from disease and disability.

Other key people to contact:

Michigan State Senate Officers

Pres – John D. Cherry, Jr.

President Pro Tempore – Randy Richardville

Asst. President Pro Tempore – Alan Sanborn

Associate President Pro Tempore Jim Barcia

All can be reached at: Michigan Senate, 125 Allagan St., Lansing, MI 48909
MI Tel. 517-373-2400   Fax 517-373-9635

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