The University of Minnesota is proceeding with embryonic stem cell research, despite an anti-abortion group’s claim that it is illegal under a new ban on the use of state tax dollars for human cloning.
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life called on the university Tuesday to “cease its pursuit of human cloning and to end its violation of state law through its ongoing destruction of human embryos.” The organization cited the new cloning ban, along with legislative testimony from a U executive that the ban would stifle “ongoing” research if passed.
University spokeswoman Mary Koppel said the executive’s comments referred to earlier versions of the bill that were broader in scope. The ban doesn’t apply, she added, because the university is not using state tax dollars for any cloning or creation of new embryonic stem cell lines. Koppel said the university already has an internal policy against the use of state tax funds for such purposes.
“This just sort of codifies what we already have in place,” she said.
The ban was a key issue in the final days of budget negotiations between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature. Pawlenty was prepared to fight a higher education budget bill unless it included the ban, which state Senate and House leaders agreed to add in final conference sessions.
The term cloning evokes images of creating a whole new person. And while the funding ban certainly covers this form of “reproductive cloning,” it also applies to “therapeutic” cloning, the process of copying human cells by transferring a person’s DNA into an unfertilized human egg.
The university is conducting research with stem cell lines that were created years ago — research that is eligible for taxpayer funding. Diabetes researcher Meri Firpo is also using private funds to create new stem cell lines out of embryos that are left over from fertility procedures. However, she said this process doesn’t involve cloning, nor does university policy even allow this type of cloning.
She said it was nonetheless “worrisome” to see a political body dictate what type of research can take place.
Abortion opponents are also against the creation of new stem cell lines from human embryos, because potential human lives are destroyed in the process.
U researchers counter that embryonic cells may unlock treatments for diabetes and cancer.
The university’s Stem Cell Institute is engaged in a variety of stem cell research, including treatments that use the cells from a patient’s own body. U researchers have also replicated a Japanese study in which ordinary skin cells were reprogrammed into an embryonic state.