ATLANTA -- Embryonic stem cell research would face limits in Georgia under a bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday.
The legislation bans the creation in Georgia of fertilized embryos for research. It passed just days after President Barack Obama freed federal funding for just such work.
The state Senate approved the measure 34-22 after a sometimes impassioned debate. One lawmaker invoked the Holocaust-era human experiments of Josef Mengele.
"Some things, unchallenged, unfettered, can ultimately lead to evil," state Sen. Preston Smith, a Rome Republican, said.
Opponents of the measure cheered late Thursday afternoon after the bill was tabled amid objections from the fertility industry, who said it would impede in vitro treatments in the state.
But Republicans huddled and hastily reworked the bill to strip out several contentious provisions. One would have outlawed the destruction of any fertilized embryo in the state and another would have granted an embryo "personhood."
Smith, who drafted the revamped bill, argued it wouldn't be an obstacle to an infertile woman seeking to get pregnant through in vitro procedures.
"It says when you're fertilizing an egg in Georgia it is not for scientific research, it is for the purpose of helping a woman have a child," Smith said.
But opponents argued that the bill still has far-reaching effects that would impact couples seeking medical help to have a baby.
Ruth Claiborne, an Atlanta lawyer who specializes in infertility issues, said it would allow a woman to seek in vitro treatment only if she is infertile. Women who seek the procedure because of health problems, like breast cancer and cystic fibrosis, would be banned, she said. It would also create complications for certain forms of surrogacy.
"It cuts certain patients out," Claiborne said.
Other critics said the legislation tells the scientific community and Georgians suffering with degenerative diseases that the state places politics over science.
"It sends a signal that we're going to close the door on science," state Sen. David Adelman, a Decatur Democrat, said.
Supporters say embryonic stem cell research could lead to a cure for ailments like Parkinson's Disease and spinal cord injuries. Critics say the research's promise is overblown and that it is an assault on life in its earliest form.
To extract stem cells, the researcher must destroy the days-old embryo.
The bill's sponsor said it permits research on existing embryonic stem cell lines, which had been allowed under the Bush administration. It also allows new embryonic stem lines to be brought into the state. The bill does not say whether unused embryos created for fertility treatments could be donated to stem cell research.
The bill must still pass the House and be signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has signaled his support.
"I am absolutely opposed to creating embryos to cure a disease," Perdue said last week.
S.B. 169: http://www.legis.ga.gov