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Assembly approves bill to authorize stem cell research in New Jersey

The Assembly approved a bill Monday that would permit stem cell research despite opposition from conservatives that it could promote human cloning.

While there was debate over the scope of the legislation, the measure passed by 41-31 with seven members abstaining. The legislation will now go to the desk of Gov. James E. McGreevey, who has indicated he would sign a stem cell research bill.

Organizations that sponsor research for terminal illnesses praised the bill as a major step forward for finding cures and lessening painful symptoms of deadly diseases. If the bill becomes law, New Jersey will become the second state in the nation to permit stem cell research.

"Now, we have the momentum going to help people with their quality of life," said Carol J. Walton, executive director of The Parkinson Alliance in Princeton. The bill includes a line expressly prohibiting human cloning. But opponents said the bill includes loopholes that could open the door to cloning.

Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex, said the bill would allow a woman to be implanted with cells that could create a clone but it would not permit the fetus to be carried to term. McHose said that may create a market for cloned fetal parts.

"We must realize we are putting New Jersey on the market for cloned fetal parts," McHose said.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, said the legislation includes provisions that will prevent stem cells from being improperly used. Cohen said it will allow New Jersey to take the lead to promote medical progress.

"Cutting-edge stem cell research will save lives," Cohen said.

Stem cells are produced in the first days of pregnancy and help create the human body. Scientists hope to someday direct stem cells to grow into replacement organs and tissues to treat a wide range of diseases.

But to harvest stem cells, researchers must destroy days-old embryos _ a procedure condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, abortion foes and others.

Supporters of the measure said adult stem cells can't be used for the same type of research as embryonic cells.

The bill would require doctors treating patients for infertility to provide enough information for them to make educated choices regarding use of human embryos after infertility treatments.

Most stem cell researchers get unwanted embryos donated by fertility clinics. The bill also calls for an institutional review board to study issues related to stem cell research and advise the governor and Legislature.

Source Date: Dec 15 2003
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