State Could Decide on Stem Cell Funding in 2007

Although it's perfectly legal now, Texas has no official stance on stem cell research, an issue that's politically polarizing and has caused divisions within the state legislature for the past several sessions. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, when the next session begins, state leaders could very well try again to set some sort of stem cell guidelines.

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Attempts to pass stem cell-related legislation failed in the 2005 session and again earlier this year in the special session, a sign of a tough fight to come in the 2007 session that begins in January. The controversial aspect of stem cell research deals with the study of embryonic stem cells, which requires the destruction of a human embryo. State Representative David Swinford chairs the House State Affairs Committee that met at the University of Houston and says it's a question of whether the government will fund the research.

"They're doing some things today, they're just doing it with state money. It usually comes down to money. The issue is will the state fund stem cell research and if it will, will it fund adult stem cell research only or will it also fund all sorts of stem cell research. That's really the issue."

Houston State Representative Martha Wong says it's imporatant that the state set the rules, one way or the other, that would regulate stem cell research and allow institutions that want to invest in research know where the state stands.

"We have to have some guidelines. If we don't have guidelines for our research then anybody is free to do anything they want to in the state of Texas, so I think it is important that we set guidelines for what we're going to do."

For some, like Bob Nilsen, time is short as they watch the stem cell debate from the sidelines, frustrated that political debate has stalled what could be promising cures. He's fought Parkinson's Disease for 14 years and says there's no question in his mind what should be done.

"I mean, I'm going through what Parkinson's disease is all about right now and it's a terrible disease and if there's any hope on any avenue on any street to get to a cure, I think the money should be spent and they should work on developing a cure, and I think there is one."

As state lawmakers gear-up for another run at the stem cell issue, Dan Quinn with The Texas Freedom Network says there is plenty of ammunitoin from both sides that could lead to lively debate in 2007.

"There are a number of folks who are determined to limit or restrict this while many others in the legislature, conservative Republicans as well as liberal and moderate Democrats who believe that stem cell research offers a lot of hope for the future for people that suffer from debilitating diseases."

The State Affairs Committee will gather information on current research and arguments from both sides of the issue and present the information in a report to the legislature in January.

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