Don't criminalize scientific research

  • Updated: April 7, 2011 - 7:18 AM

Sen. Michelle Fischbach

Sen. Michelle Fischbach

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker inspired admiration and alarm in Minnesota earlier this year with this audacious move: posting "Open for Business" signs at his state's border crossings.

Two months later, the Minnesota Legislature is on the verge of sending the exact opposite message to the bioscience industry, whose high-paying jobs are key to this state's economic future.

A breathtakingly anti-jobs bill being fast-tracked by anti-abortion activist Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, not only would have bioscience firms exiting the state, it would result in a massive brain drain.

If the bill passes, the state's elite cadre of scientists will need to leave if they want to stay at the forefront of research and stay out of jail.

Under the guise of banning cloned human babies -- something that isn't scientifically possible -- Fischbach's bill goes far beyond that to criminalize cutting-edge cellular-level research that could lead to cures for devastating diseases.

Although this research isn't yet being done in Minnesota, it is an option that medical centers and researchers need to have open. Criminalizing it smacks of some third-world theocracy and would make the state a scientific backwater.

"Who is proposing human culture tanks from 'Brave New World'? Nobody I know," said Dr. Steven Miles, a Minneapolis physician and bioethicist. "This is basically another effort on the part of the right-to-life movement to build a body of laws to say human life begins at conception. In that sense, it's part of a broader anti-abortion agenda. It is an anti-science agenda.''

Research that would be criminalized does not involve a fertilized human embryo.

Instead, it's a method used to generate patient-specific stem cells, which could then be used to create treatments tailored to individual patients.

In principle, genetic material from a patient's skin cell is inserted into an egg from which the nucleus has previously been removed. The cells multiply but die within days -- before they can be seen without a powerful microscope.

Two of the nation's most respected medical research institutions -- the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic -- are warning against limits on this type of research. Advocacy groups for those with disabling diseases are also speaking out against this measure.

Nevertheless, Republican lawmakers are recklessly plunging ahead and allowing big government to dictate what can and can't be studied in medical laboratories.

Fischbach's measure has cruised through legislative committees with Republican support and is expected to be approved in a floor vote. A companion bill is also making its way through the House.

It's clear who the bill's supporters are listening to. Fischbach's husband leads a formidable special-interest group -- Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). Statements from the group have been misleading.

The leading scientists the group cites as being against human cloning actually do not oppose the type of research that Fischbach would criminalize -- something confirmed by statements from these scientists, including Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep.

What these scientists oppose is cloning the human version of Dolly.

Sensing opportunity in Minnesota, California research centers are swooping in, trying to lure away scientists with offers of a better academic and business climate, not to mention a better climate.

Minnesota's economy is substantially more dependent on biosciences than other states, according to a recent report from the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota.

Handcuffing scientists -- literally and figuratively -- would needlessly take a state economic strength and make it a weakness.

 

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  • TWO VIEWS

    "Mayo Clinic does not do research for the purposes of human cloning. Although this legislation does not appear to directly impact our research efforts, we need to make sure that any legislation does not limit our ability to develop new treatments for diseases that affect Minnesotans and for which there are no other effective treatments. Common diseases like diabetes, coronary artery disease, multiple sclerosis, as well as many others, may benefit from research involving stem cells."

    Dr. ROBERT RIZZA, executive dean for research at Mayo Clinic

    • • •

    "It's bad for business. It will have unintentional outcomes that weren't anticipated by the authors.''

    DALE WAHLSTROM, CEO, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota.

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Sen. Michelle Fischbach