Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 12, 2008

Op-Ed: Stem cells likely biggest issue in Nov.

LANSING -- The stage is set for an epic battle at the polls this November that may determine Michigan's future. And it doesn't involve a single candidate for office.

But it might be this year's most important contest of all. Michigan voters are all but certain to be asked to amend the state constitution and the state's ban on embryonic stem cell research.

That is certain to have scientific and ethical implications -- but also economic ones as well. Supporters of stem cell research can envision the University of Michigan or Grand Rapids' Van Andel Research Institute as places where cutting-edge research is done.

Eventually, supporters can easily imagine people coming from around the world to the U-M hospitals for stem-cell treatments for everything from Parkinson's disease to macular degeneration.

Supporters of CureMichigan, a pro-stem cell research group, turned in more than 570,000 signatures to the Secretary of State last week. Though they have yet to be checked and certified, that is far more than the number needed to win a place on the ballot.

To Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Stem Cell Research, that was welcome news that couldn't have come too soon. Thanks to the influence of Right To Life and its allies in the Legislature, Michigan has had some of the nation's most restrictive laws banning stem cell research. That has made it hard for Morrison to recruit and keep top-notch faculty.

Those boosting the state's effort to attract high-tech, new-economy jobs also worry that they will be doomed to failure if Michigan continues to have medieval laws blocking perhaps the most exciting and promising area of scientific research.

"How do you work with your hands tied behind your back?" Morrison has said. He has been doing research on stem cells taken fron umbilical cords, but he said flatly they were not as good as embryonic stem cells, despite propaganda to the contrary.

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