David Shafer Takes on the Stem Cell Debate

Cross posted at RedState.

My friend David Shafer (R-48) recognizes that there is a problem in the debate over stem cell research — a problem that stretches across party lines and ideological divides. The problem is everyone gets hung up on cloning and embryonic stem cell research and, in the process of arguing, fails to harness the agreed upon parts of the science to move the ball forward. In the Georgia Senate, David Shafer is planning to move the ball significantly down the field with the Delivering the Cure: Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative Act. The act should go a long way toward satisfying both the concerns of the pro-life community and the concerns of those wanting to proceed with due speed in stem cell research.

The act starts off recognizing that embryonic stem cell research is not the only stem cell research possible. It states:

(1) Over 100 million Americans and two billion other humans worldwide suffer from diseases that may eventually be treated more effectively or even cured with stem cells;
(2) Stem cell research has been hampered by the controversy over embryonic stem cells;
(3) Stem cells are not found only in embryos;
(4) The umbilical cord, placenta, and amniotic fluid are rich in stem cells which may be used for scientific research and medical research without destroying embryos;

The act also says

(7) It shall be the public policy of this state to encourage the donation, collection, and storage of stem cells collected from postnatal tissue and fluid and to make such stem cells available for both scientific research and medical treatment. It shall be the public policy of this state to encourage ethical research in life science and regenerative medicine; and
(8) It shall be against the public policy of this state to perform human cloning for either reproductive or research purposes.

In order to accomplish its goals, the law has three significant provisions.

First, a cord bank will be set up with the expectation that it will be self supporting. Any person can donate the umbilical cord of their child to the bank and any researcher approved by the federal government can use cord stem cells for research. The bank will be established as a partnership between the state government and any willing public university in the state. Researchers seeking to use the bank will work with the bank to offset costs and expenses incurred in the collection and storage of the postnatal tissue and fluid. The bill should also help make Georgia eligible for federal grants.

Second, the bill flatly prohibits all forms of human cloning, whether the cloned embryo is intended to be implanted in the womb or not. Any person who experiments in human cloning in Georgia would be guilty of a felony. The law provides some exceptions for non human cloning. Section two of the law states

Nothing in this Code section shall restrict areas of scientific research not specifically prohibited by this Code section, including research in the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants, or animals other than humans.

Third, the bill allows taxpayers to donate to the bank on their income tax forms. Any person can elect to send a portion of their tax refund to the cord bank for its upkeep and to help cover the costs of collection and storage of the tissue and fluid.

The bill does not address embryonic stem cell research beyond making it clear that there are alternatives that the State of Georgia will favor. Shafer, who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research, tells me that this legislation is more about saving lives than debating controversy. He also tells me it will be interesting to see who opposes the law because it does not include embryonic stem cell research. “I want Georgia to be a center of ethical scientific research,

12 comments

  1. buzzbrockway says:

    Shafer spoke briefly about this yesterday at a Legislative reception with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. There were several Doctors on hand (to receive recognition on behalf of the Gwinnett Hospital System) who nodded their heads in support of Shafer’s efforts.

    In the days leading up to the birth of our third (and final) daughter, the Hospital sent us a form asking if we wanted to donate the umbilical cord and placenta. Since I didn’t even want to look at them we said yes, but I was surprised I had not heard of this before. We were not asked this prior to the birth of our other two daughters. Certainly this needs to be publicized and encouraged and I would be shocked if Shafer’s bill receives much opposition.

    Kudos to Sen. Shafer.

  2. Kudos to Adelman for bringing attention to the issue by offering his (more controversal) bill first. This is not the first time one of his issues has been copied by the Republicans. Chip Rogers also ripped off his “Gift Card Bill”, only instead of banning dormancy fees Rogers version just said corporations have to let you know about them in bigger writing.

    Shafer’s bill, while weaker than the Democrats version, still goes in the right direction.

  3. Doc Holiday says:

    This is somewhat surprising for the Georgia General Assembly which normally confines itself trivial matters like making waffles the official breakfast food of the state. Sen. Shafer is actually on the right track here. Despite all the ethical controversy, embryonic stem cell research has yet to yield a single medical discovery. But instead of engaging in that debate, Shafer comes forward with a plan that redirects the focus on adult stem cell research where all the breakthroughs have been made. Well done. I hope he succeeds.

  4. Doc Holiday says:

    The Shafer bill is not “weaker” than the Democrat version. It is much stronger. The Democratic version would have sent us down the wrong track.

  5. Brian from Ellijay says:

    Yeah, I think Senator Shafer did a good job with this one. He waltzed the line, but kept it away from the embronic side of the debate and made it about adult embroys. Another great move by Senator Shafer…the first being endorsing Casey Cagle. 🙂

  6. spaceygracey says:

    When I gave birth at Piedmont Hospital in 2000, they asked me if I wanted to see the placenta/umbilical cord. (I kid you not!) So I replied, “Sure, while I’m in the midst of this little Marilyn Manson blood-fest, why not. Let’s go all out.”

    Then I asked them what they were going to do with that “stuff,” and they said “throw it out.”

    In less icky terms, they had no program at Piedmont for harvesting cells from umbilical cords at the time. I hope they do now, but I’ve already done my duty to society with that little bout of totally natural childbirth (Yes, I am tougher than you), so you won’t be gettin’ any more cells outta me in the future.

    And BTW, stop SB123 if you want to continue to control your own reproductive destiny, folks.

  7. Bird Calloway says:

    I have to say that Shafer has done some good in the past, and certainly has avoided much harm. Still, I suppose I am happy to notice that he stopped monkeying with the North Fulton project long enough to aid research in a vast area of potential for medicinal wonders. Oh, and thank goodness he is not pushing for Ralph Reed.

  8. Steven P says:

    I applaud Senator Sahfer for making this move. Since just before 9/11 when the President took time to debate himself on the stem cell issue, he came back to us with no bravado but asked states to take the challenge. Thankfully Senator Shafer has thought this out and noticed the untapped area of useful stem cells that have no ethical qualms.

    It was encouraging to see the ban in human cloning int he bill after the scare cause by Senator Adelman’s bill a few weeks ago.

    The great attention this should draw to Georgia is also encouraging. Georgia’s higher education has been advancing in science in the last handful of years to a point where we rival any other university system in the land. We should use stem cells in our research to help identify their abilities in therapies, and show everyone how talented our universities have become.

  9. Lab Rat says:

    I am also a friend of Sen. David Shafer, and I am proud to know that he is looking toward the future of science without letting go of the wisdom of the past. We should be very careful in how we consider issues of creative destruction. I am happy that he has proposed a bill to ban human cloning, as well as to pursue research on postnatal stem cells that would otherwise be discarded. I will be stunned, but not ultimately surprised, when the democrats under the Gold Dome try to rattle this bill off of track. This is a great concept and I will donate funds to it if given the chance.

  10. Greg K. says:

    I do not know Senator Shafer well enough to claim him as a friend, but I wholeheartedly support this bill. It is a tragedy that umbilical cord blood is treated as medical waste. Private firms and some nonprofit groups like Babies for Life Foundation have made efforts to collect this valuable life saving material, but it almost all ends up incinerated. A statewide “Initiative” is precisely what is needed.

    It looks like Senator Adelman and the Democrats were trying to use umbilical cord blood donation as a trojan horse for state funding of embryonic stem cell research. This is the typical Democratic response to a problem. The free market will not support embryo research because of the lack of scientific results, so Adelman and the Democrats want to waste our state tax dollars to support this research. Of course, with the Democrats, the morality of embryo research never even enters into the picture.

    I hope Senator Shafer is successful in passing his Newborn Cord Blood Initiative. Stem cell research from cord blood has already produced over 85 medical treatments and cures and it raises none of the ethical questions of embryo research. It is time for Georgia to lead in something we can all be proud of!!!

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