The stars are aligning for Illinois tax dollars to support embryonic stem cell research. The bill (SB1336), sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston,) calls for $25 million to be dolled out and includes a provision banning human cloning. Last week the Senate, which had killed similar measures in the past, approved the bill with a comfortable 35-24 vote.
The House now takes the reigns and will likely send it to the Governor who will almost assuredly sign the legislation. Just last year Blagojevich skirted state restrictions by using his executive power to create the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute, which awarded $15 million in a variety of stem cell research grants.
All of this keeps the state in line with the current nationwide trend, starting with the always prophetic California:
California's stem cell agency on Friday doled out nearly $45 million in research grants to about 20 state universities and nonprofit research laboratories, far exceeding the federal government's spending on the controversial work….
California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71 to create the institute and give it authority to borrow and spend $3 billion for the research….
Next month, another round of 25 grants worth about $80 million will go to established stem cell scientists.
Four other states have also skirted federal restrictions with stem cell research funding schemes of their own: Connecticut has a 10-year, $100 million initiative; Illinois spent $10 million last year; Maryland has approved a $15 million budget; and New Jersey has spent about $25 million in two years.
Our northwestern neighbor also tagged along last week:
A controversial bill easing restrictions on the research of embryonic stem cells obtained through cloning is headed to Gov. Chet Culver's desk after being approved in the Iowa House Thursday night….
Culver, a Democrat, argues Iowa's current law leaves the state at a competitive disadvantage, while Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri moved ahead with research facilities. Culver has called for lawmakers to approve $12.5 million to create Iowa's Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Iowa.
This makes me wonder how some in the Illinois GOP, already in sinking circumstances, can afford to politically stonewall on the issue. Sen. Chris Lauzen epitomizes the rhetoric of those in opposition:
"Obviously we all want cures to diseases. The question is, what are willing to sacrifice to get them?" said Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora. "The unique identity of an individual human being disappears for eternity."
But his Republican colleague, Sen. Kirk Dillard who voted in favor of the legislation offers the pragmatic logic that conservatives can use as an out:
"They go into the public sewer system. I really believe my maker would want me to use these embryos to sustain and improve human life," he said.
As Dillard makes clear, in almost all cases the “individual human being” will be “lost for all eternity” with or without this legislation. A "No" vote will not change that. Most reasonable Illinois voters can make this distinction, leading to the very strong public opinion supporting the research.
Republican legislators in select areas may spark some local displeasure among the most faithful by supporting of this type of bill, but it certainly wouldn’t be the end all. Even then, I'd imagine that the political damage could be partially neutralized by appealing to the sympathetic stories of human suffering. Michael J. Fox can be persuasive.
But more important than individual legislators, further opposition to stem cell research politically damages the State Republican Party. No matter how it is spun, the party loses by staying the course. Nevermind the distinction between embyonic and adult stem cells. The public won't process the nuance, and the political damage will still be done.
No one knows how to right the sinking GOP ship in the state….
But it is clear what wont:
Drifting further to the ideological right on a social issue that runs counter the vast majority of Illinoisans, is against the national tide, and has a pragmatic “out” to appease most moderate conservatives.
The state GOP can't afford to stay on the wrong side of this one.