Lives may have been on the line when the bill restricting embryonic stem cell research passed through the state senate Thursday.
The 34-22 vote on S.B. 169 comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent decision to allow stem cell research efforts after an eight-year ban under the Bush administration.
Opponents of legislative restrictions think stem cell research could lead to cures for debilitating medical conditions and diseases responsible for millions of deaths, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Seth Borquaye, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Liberty Regional Medical Center, thinks the state’s actions were due to misinterpretations that relate the research to abortion.
“So, the conservatives are linking this stem cell research to abortion, saying if you allow embryonic research, then scientists are going to kill innocent children,” he said.
Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, was one of the bill sponsors.
The House still has to approve the bill in order for it to become Georgia law. There are 10 more days in the General Assembly.
But under the Senate’s proposed bill, embryos could only be used for in-vitro fertilization.
Borquaye performs initial examinations for many in-vitro fertilization cases, but Savannah is the closest location where the prodedure is performed.
He explained the process involves extracting one or two embryos then often freezing the remaining ones in liquid nitrogen, which becomes expensive.
“They’re leftover embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway. So why not use it for scientific research?” Borquaye asked.
A self-proclaimed “devout Christian,” he could understand the ethical question that often comes up.
“What people are worried about is, it’s taking human fetuses and just throwing them away,” Borquaye said.
A pregnancy is not viable until about 20 weeks, according to Borquaye. He explained embryos to be 18 to 20 cells.
“It’s just cells at that stage,” Borquaye said. “There’s no heartbeat or anything
Heartbeat or not, life starts at conception, according to Jane Marie Davis, president of the Georgia Right to Life, Liberty/Long chapter.
“When we want to play unethical and immoral [practices], where do we stop?” She asked. “How far will we go? We have to take a stand.”
She asked why so many embryos are needed, suggesting that’s where the law needs to step in. Additionally, Davis said researchers can use other stem cells besides those from embryos.
“They’ve come a long way in other ways,” Davis said. “I just think we have to be careful because our government wants to play God.”
Other options for study include using umbilical cord stem cells and adult stem cells, according to Dr. David Lake, physical therapist and professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University.
“Use of umbilical cord cells have shown some help in stroke patients with research done in Taiwan with improved walking ability,” Lake said.
He agrees research needs to cover a wide range, but does not think ethics should stand in the way of science that shows real potential.
“To outright ban such research is prolonging the time by which we may be able to help these patients in a significant manner — and that to me, after witnessing the suffering, is morally indefensible,” Lake said.
If research intesified now, treatments and cures for many diseases could likely come in the next 10 years, according to Lake — possibly even the next five years.
“Balancing potential life against really dying individuals, who may have a lot to contribute to society … seems like an easy answer in favor of the dying who can be saved over debatably, potential life,” Lake said. “As a scientist and health care professional, it is a simple answer for me.”
Destroying even the potential for life is questionable to Davis, who asked how many Albert Einsteins and Martin Luther King Jr.s could the world potentially lose.
“We’ve got this line there that we crossed that is just hard,” Davis said.
But the research is not a risky, what-if situation, according to Borquaye, who said animal studies have already shown a lot of promise.
“Everything starts with an experiment,” Borquaye said. “Until we try, we don’t know.”
“If we don’t [allow research] then we’re sitting and not doing anything, scientifically, and medicine is not going advance,” Borquaye said.