Debate Rages Over Stem Cell Research

Wednesday, April 22nd 2009, 10:03 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The debate over stem cell research stirs up deeply held religious, moral and ethical views.

But some aren't sure what a possible ban or veto will mean for Oklahoma.

Cells tinier than a pin head have some asking larger-than-life questions.

House Bill 1326 would criminalize research that would destroy or cause substantial risk to a human embryo.

4/22/2009  Related Story: Gov. Henry To Veto Stem Cell Bill

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation reports this type of research isn't even happening in the state right now.

The foundation is doing research on adult stem cells but not embryonic.

But its workers say no one knows what the medical landscape will look like in five or 10 years. And they don't believe research should be cut off if it could lead to life-saving innovations in the future.

It's that potential that prompted the Chambers of Commerce in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City to come out against House Bill 1326.

Business leaders say it will drive research dollars away from Oklahoma.

"This is about using embryos that are currently frozen in banks that are going to be destroyed and thrown away," said Roy Williams, president of the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce. "It's not about harvesting embryos. It's not about creating embryos for research."

Some lawmakers say the chamber is being misleading.

State Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Purcell, points to research from the Rand Corporation that says nearly 90 percent of frozen embryos in storage are being held for future pregnancies, and only 11,000 embryos in the whole country have been set aside by patients for research.

With thousands, not hundreds of thousands available, Billy says it's possible embryos could be created just to be destroyed in the name of research.

But the same Rand study estimates another 26,000 embryos are discarded or abandoned.

A spokeswoman at Integris Fertility Institute in Oklahoma City estimates the clinic stores 230 sets of embryos for later use. A set could include anywhere from two embryos to 11.

About 20 sets are set aside for embryo adoption. Only two sets have been sent off for research, and that's happened only in the past six months.

The clinic's workers say they do have a few cases of abandoned embryos but they just hold them indefinitely.

State Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, is holding a press conference in Oklahoma City on Thursday morning with a Tulsa businessman who is resigning from the chamber over the organization's stance on the issue.