Metro Atlanta is now ground zero in stem cell debate

Congratulations. You and the rest of metro Atlanta have just become ground zero in a national debate over the limits of science and, not incidentally, when life begins.

The fight will pit Georgia’s largest and most powerful education institutions — and not a few sympathetic business heavyweights — against the conservative Christian base of a Republican party that rules the state.

AP Photo/Advanced Cell Technology

AP Photo/Advanced Cell Technology

One side will insist that souls are at stake. The other side will argue that there are lives to be saved. And jobs to be had.

“In some ways we missed the whole [microchip] revolution, job-wise and research-wise,” Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia said in an interview this week. “I think this is an opportunity. For the good of the country, the good of people’s health and the economic development of the state, we need to press forward.”

The cauldron has been bubbling at the state Capitol for several years. The last fight was in 2009, over a Senate bill that — in one form — would have barred, among other things, the use of human genetic material in research involving other animals. The measure failed.

But science has provided the most immediate ingredients for a confrontation in Georgia.

In May, the University of Georgia unveiled a line of 13 custom-made pigs whose organs may some day be developed for human use, without rejection. Scientists used human DNA as a trigger to reprogram porcine adult stem cells into more malleable, powerful — but still porcine — embryonic stem cells.

The 20-year breakthrough has vast economic and medicinal potential — for the state and for UGA. And it was exactly the kind of research the 2009 legislation attempted to block.

One of 13 hand-crafted pigs unveiled in May/University of Georgia

One of 13 hand-crafted pigs unveiled in May/University of Georgia

On Tuesday, another, even larger shoe dropped. Geron Corp., a California firm, announced that the Shepherd Center in Atlanta had become the site of its first human trial involving embryonic stem cells. The subject is an unidentified, partially paralyzed patient who was injured only within the last two weeks.

No government funds are involved in the bottom-rung test at Shepherd, approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The baseline aim is to test whether treatment involving embryonic stem cells poses any threats to human patients.

The accident of geography alone is sure to encourage scientists at UGA, Georgia Tech and Emory University — who are following their own paths.

Embryonic stem cells, capable of morphing into virtually any tissue in the body, are largely drawn from unused fertilized eggs created during in vitro fertility treatments.

But anti-abortion activists and others who believe that life begins wherever a human egg and sperm meet — whether in a womb or Petri dish — contend that drawing genetic material from embryos amounts to snuffing out a life.

In the governor’s race, Republican Nathan Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes are on opposite sides of the issue. Deal opposes the research. Barnes supports it.

Regardless of who is elected governor, the fight will occur in the trenches of the Legislature — which is sure to remain Republican.

Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life, promised a renewed attack on embryonic stem cell research when the General Assembly convenes in January — though proposed legislation won’t be sketched out for weeks or months.

Becker also pointed to the increasing political clout of the anti-abortion movement. This summer, Georgia Right to Life became a vociferous opponent of Karen Handel, whom the group declared too liberal on GRTL’s core issue, in the Republican race for governor. Handel also opposed restrictions on invitro fertilization.

But the ground has changed since 2009. The research under attack — largely theory then — is now a fact on the ground, and thus may be harder to stop. Two prominent backers of the 2009 legislation in the Senate, Republicans Preston Smith of Rome and Ralph Hudgens of Hull, will be missing from that chamber.

Then there’s the fact that pro-life legislation has a history of becoming lost in the maze of House committees.

Yet with the stakes so high, a confrontation is likely to require the personal intervention from the leaders Georgia’s academic institutions. “I certainly believe that Tech and Georgia and Emory will be united on a position that this research should go forward,” said Adams, the UGA president.

He is not sure of the particulars, but Adams was very clear about past messages he’s delivered to state lawmakers.

“I have great respect for the people who have a different viewpoint than I do — especially those who see this on ethical and moral grounds. I’m concerned about life,” the university president said. “I’m a dedicated Christian. I don’t want to see any misuse of this science. But I believe that the good that comes to society far outweighs the negatives.

“I also tell them that, from where I sit, this has the ethical advantage of doing for other people in need what we would want done for ourselves,” he said — adding that the possibility of ending diabetes or Parkinson’s Disease is too profound to ignore.

“This is one of those areas where two groups of well-meaning people disagree,” Adams concluded. “And yet there’s no secret about what our position is.”

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43 comments Add your comment

John

October 13th, 2010
7:09 pm

Embryoes aren’t babies.

Gail

October 13th, 2010
7:32 pm

I was diagnosed with Ideopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. There is no treatment or cure for this disease in the U.S. IF you are opposed to stem cell research, just ask yourself “what would I want to happen IF my little girl or grandchild had a disease with no cure?”. If you truly searched your soul, I’ll bet you would be pushing hard for stem cell research that could save your little ones life..

Bobby Anthony

October 13th, 2010
7:38 pm

Anything Adam’s supports I will be against. He will never fill Fred Davidson’s shoes nor Aderhold’s.

Fred

October 13th, 2010
7:55 pm

I think folks need to know (and I am for fetal stem cell research) that the vast bulk of advances are being done in adult stem cell research and I would not be surprised that adult cells will ultimately prove far more advantageous that fetal tissue, although I am for looking at and working with both.

Kevin H

October 13th, 2010
8:07 pm

Another piece of this puzzle is the redevelopment of Fort McPherson. It is slated to be anchored by a multi-billion-dollar bioscience research center, but if the state restricts scientists here more than they are in other states, or even continues to threaten to, we can kiss that goodbye. The US is already falling behind the rest of the world in Bioscience because of our restrictions and the CONCERN that restrictions may be put in place after facilities are established. One day scientists from Germany, China, Japan, Canada, or elsewhere will develop amazing treatments that will no doubt be “imported” to the US…we won’t let our children die of these diseases when a treatment IS available. Additionally, the lack of a clear path forward in Embryonic Stem Cell Research will not only keep that research away from here, but also the associated research that does not use that technology, because entire research facilities will locate elsewhere. The research WILL happen. Treatments WILL be found. They WILL be used in the US. But other countries (states) will get the money and jobs.

Cutty

October 13th, 2010
8:07 pm

How can you be pro-life and for the death penalty at the same time? These bible thumpers would rather revert back to the horse and carriage days. SMH.

Voted for Handel 2x

October 13th, 2010
8:18 pm

Why I’ll vote for Barnes before Deal

“Becker also pointed to the increasing political clout of the anti-abortion movement. This summer, Georgia Right to Life became a vociferous opponent of Karen Handel, whom the group declared too liberal on GRTL’s core issue, in the Republican race for governor. Handel also opposed restrictions on invitro fertilization.”

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

October 13th, 2010
10:29 pm

Well, if you needed proof that things are just not going the Democrats way, look no further.

You have JimBama Marshall vowing not to vote for Pelosi as speaker.

You have JohnBama Barrow running like a wild maniac to keep below the radar screen and having to face too many “Will you vote for Pelosi” or “Will you support Obama policies” questions.

You have King Roy bantering about with Ol Nathan, while Bobby Kahn sharpens his knifes and waits….and what does our dear enlightened columnist write about?

Stem Cell research?

I can just hear the Union bosses and Dem elite muttering about their fate now. Ha!

bart

October 13th, 2010
11:28 pm

You are not pro life if you value a bunch of cells over a living, breathing human being who is suffering from a debilitating disease or condition. Kevin H., you are so right. The Bible thumpers may very well keep Georgia in the dark ages because many of our politicians are in the pockets of this radical group.

atlanta mom

October 13th, 2010
11:40 pm

Finally,
We lead the nation in somethingwe can be proud of!!!!

The Centrist

October 14th, 2010
3:30 am

“No government funds are involved…to test whether treatment involving embryonic stem cells poses any threats to human patients.” Georgia can look forward to at least four more years of bass ackward neo-conservative policies. SMH.

J Bolton

October 14th, 2010
5:21 am

Get real Georgia – those embryos will be destroyed any way. Why not use them to save lives?

khc

October 14th, 2010
6:33 am

whatever BA says do the opposite most of time

N Ga Thinker

October 14th, 2010
7:09 am

1.) Georgia Right to Life endorses Rep. Nathan Deal and NOT Roy.

Renegade

October 14th, 2010
7:17 am

To Cutty, how can you be pro-life and pro-death penalty at the same time??? It is easy, and very rational. Killing a killer is justified, killing a baby is not. Now, that wasn’t hard was it. Sometimes liberals are so open minded their brains fell out.

TJ

October 14th, 2010
7:20 am

Cell research is OK and the same results can be achieved without the embryonic component. Life is sacred and it can, should and ought to be protected at all costs. Georgia Right to Life is correct on this issue as well as several others on its plate. I’m thrilled that GRTL endorsed Rep. Deal. This just gives me another reason to not only cast my ballot for Deal, but to also urge my family, friends and neighbors to follow suit.

Aquagirl

October 14th, 2010
7:29 am

TJ, I look forward to your press conference today announcing your previously unannounced research in non-embryonic stem cell research. It’s astonishing it flew under the radar until now.

Either that or you’re just another University of Google grad who is talking out of their rear end. Let’s face it, you don’t know diddly-squat about why scientists would use one type of stem cell over another.

about time

October 14th, 2010
7:35 am

another reason not to vote for DEAL

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

October 14th, 2010
8:06 am

TJ is just another of Rome’s “Fifth Column” in Georgia, like so many of those whose names appear on campaign lawn signs. Who but Roman Catholics’ fellow-travelers would accept GRTL’s endorsement: insisting that victims of rape and incest be forced by law to bring a resulting pregnancy to full term?

We came here fleeing king and pope, the Old Sectarian Order, to establish “Novus Ordo Seclorem,” that Reason, Law, and G-d, by “Annuit Coeptis,” be accessible to all.

Why let these crypto-Nazis repeal the American Revolution…particularly in Georgia? Haven’t they done enough damage elsewhere?

3 Arrows

October 14th, 2010
8:16 am

Cutty

October 14th, 2010
8:23 am

So Renegade, conservatives are pro-lifers with caveats. Like they’re fiscally responsible with caveats like wars the kill innocent people?? You hicks contradict yourselves on so much its funny. Pro-life AND pro-war.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

October 14th, 2010
8:30 am

Thanks for the link “3 Arrows.” It is transparently obvious that Nathan Deal is a corrupt liar and a fraud.

John K

October 14th, 2010
8:40 am

Well, pro-lifers are pro-life up to the moment of birth, then it’s “not my problem.” Raise taxes to take care of unwanted babies? Ha! Adoption not abortion? Yeah, right. They’re not going to put their money where there mouth is, otherwise there would be no children waiting to be adopted.

Steve Gadd

October 14th, 2010
8:59 am

How anyone could be opposed to stem cell research, something that in the end could be the cure for almost anything is beyond me… Millions of people needlessly suffer because the Republican party needed to assuage their ignorant base of stone-cold hearted religious whackos. (2006 Bush Veto) They talk about CELLS as if they were people. Say goodbye to yourself the next time you cut your finger or go to the bathroom!

The earth is not flat people…

Pappa Grizzly

October 14th, 2010
9:16 am

If it ain’t in the bible its immoral and against the word of god.

All of these scientists and stem-cell advocates are leading Georgia into a very dark place.

WTF

October 14th, 2010
9:19 am

Great attitude Bobby Anthony – don’t examine the issues, facts or accute medical issues, just because you hate Michael Adams. Maybe you will use a little more common sense if you happen to be diagnosed with Parkinsons or break your back. And people wonder why the Georgia legislature is the laughing stock of the nation.

John K

October 14th, 2010
9:21 am

Pappa Grizzly, is posting on an online blog in the Bible? If not, you just broke the word of God. You’re burning in hell, sorry.

Dan Lynch

October 14th, 2010
9:26 am

Just in case you think all stem-cell research results in the death of an embryo, there is a company Advanced Cell Technology that has developed a method to extract embryonic stem-cells from an embryo without harming the embryo. Don’t immediately blow off hESC research without realizing the fantastic potential that it holds for curing diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration, spinal cord injuries, etc.

BTW Steve Gadd, did you play on the Steely Dan song that mentions the Double-Helix???

Maureen

October 14th, 2010
10:18 am

I know who I’ll be voting for ……Roy Barnes ……Please!!! everyone in favor of stem cells …..don’t let this opportunity slip away …vote for someone in favor of continuing research, we don’t need any more obstacles in this all important aspect of saving MILLIONS of lives!!!! And that’s just what Deal will do …… Say “NO DEAL” !!!!!

Maureen

October 14th, 2010
10:24 am

Re: my earlier post ……just to clarify ….”and that’s just what Deal will do” …. he will hinder cell stem research …….

Hall Mom

October 14th, 2010
10:49 am

I am voting for Nathan as he will stop this abomination. A firey afterlife awaits all you who vote for Barnes or that devil Monds.

johnatl

October 14th, 2010
11:38 am

The amount of ignorance and pure hatred coming from the right does indeed make us the laughing stock of the Nation. I remember a time when we were considered the most progressive State in the South. How very sad that things have come to this. Deal will set us back even further than Sonny Bubba did, and yet the countless idiots out there STILL plan on voting for this fool.

Maureen

October 14th, 2010
11:40 am

To Hall Mom:

Your pathetic of your use of “scare tactics” How dare you to make such a statement ……I am a Catholic ….and I realize my religion does not support stem cell research …..but I have a mind of my own, and I do not stand behind the church in this matter. I believe that if this is to be ….it will be. No matter how you slice it or dice it, lives WILL be saved. What is wrong about that? Don’t you think God would like that? I hope and pray you never have a person close to you who would need to benefit from stem cell research. What if it were your child? Would you allow your flesh and blood to die, because you don’t approve of an embyro being destroyed, and by the way, more than likely be destroyed regardless …..What about the lives of people currently afflicted by the many various diseases? WHAT ABOUT THEM? Seriously!

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

October 14th, 2010
11:55 am

Thanks Maureen, Like my Notre Dame senior-grandfather, a hundred years ago, who punched out a priest/professor’s beating a classmate on the front row of a lecture hall, obeying only G-d, you too are on your way to becoming a true American.

Lisa W

October 14th, 2010
12:02 pm

I have a friend who had in vitro. Because she was over a certain age, she was prohibited from donating her unused fertilized eggs to another woman. Her options? Destroy the fertilized eggs or donate them for scientific research. Better to just throw them away or use them to help others? You tell me.

Lisa W

October 14th, 2010
12:05 pm

@ Hall mom and the rest of the religious fanatics – a firey after life only awaits those who believe in such things. I am not one of them so it doesn’t scare me one bit.

DJ Sniper

October 14th, 2010
12:25 pm

I will admit that I didn’t really know a whole lot about stem cell research and why it was such a divisive issue. Now I see that the religious right pretty much puts stem cell research on the same level as abortion, which is why they are opposed to it. Based on what I know so far, I don’t have any issue at all with stem cell research, especially if it saves lives and ends up becoming a treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s and other such ailments.

My wish is that the state of Georgia can finally elect lawmakers who will not bend to the will of the religious right when it comes to certain issues. I’m sick and tired of this state constantly staying in the dark ages due to the fact that our politicians are in these people’s back pockets. From stem cell research to Sunday alcohol sales to casinos; any issue that the religious right feels is bad, they will make sure to voice their opinion. We pretty much know that voting Nathan Deal in as governor will keep things the way they are.

[...] Political Insider Jim Galloway has written a fascinating article about Georgia’s pivotal role in the national stem-cell debate. This comes due to recent [...]

Maureen

October 14th, 2010
12:35 pm

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

October 14th, 2010
12:35 pm

David Nahmias is Roman Catholic. Why should Georgians put them over us where Sherman and the Middle Passage, Rome’s more overt efforts, failed to enslave us? Should those who, of their own volition, affiliate with the pedophile priesthood and Black Aristocracy Our Founder identified as “the real Anti-Christ” be our “leaders,” or persons of authority?

Bill

October 14th, 2010
3:01 pm

No argument is going to convince either side (the pro-life or the pro-choice) that their strong held beliefs are right or wrong. Arguments about hell-fire or rational arguments about the benefits of the research aren’t going to convince either side. I personally whole-heartedly support pro-choice and believe it is the right of each woman to decide what to do with their fetuses and their embryos up until the fetus develops to a stage when it can live on its on outside the womb; e.g. no third term abortions unless the pregnancy threatens the mothers life.

With that said, I believe every woman has the right to decide what she prefers to do with any unneeded/unwanted embryos; donate to an infertile woman, embryonic research or dispose of the zygotes. No legislation should deny her the choice. For those who have religious objections, they also have the choice of having the baby or donating the fertilized egg.

I tend to be fiscally conservative and would consider myself leaning Republican, but can’t stomach the way that the religious fanatics have attempted to take over the Republican agenda. I know that any politician will say anything necessary to win the election no matter what he believes, but I am really having a hard time with Deal’s stance on this issue.

Julie Anne Olivier

October 17th, 2010
5:00 am

You are so MISINFORMED. Scientist can manufacture cells that resemble embryonic stem cells. They are not killing fertilized eggs for research. Having to explain this to people who should KNOW better and research before OPENING THEIR MOUTHS and trying to start a battle ground over nothing. Is just frustrating.

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