On Friday, March 13, Georgia’s Senate and House both passed bills designed to limit stem cell research and grant embryos the status of full personhood.
SB 169 "The Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act" prohibits therapeutic cloning of embryonic stem cells. It's now in House, and at this time is in "second read;" no changes were made during the "first read."
HB 388 "The Option of Adoption" declares every human embryo — in a womb, Petri dish or cryogenic storage — to be a child. It has been "read and referred."
Should they come to the floor and pass (as many expect), they’ll proceed to the desk of Governor Sonny Perdue (Rep), who is sure to sign them into law.
When President Obama liftedfederal restrictionson stem cell research on March 9, reversing the Bush restrictionsof 2001, his Executive Order set the stage for Georgia’s extreme religious groups to push legislation to declare a fertilized egg as a human being with rights that must be protected.
The Republican majority of Georgia's politicians – never ones to miss an opportunity to embarrass themselves – fell in lockstep with the Georgia Christian Coalition’s march to higher courts to define "when life begins." Dan Becker is president of Georgia Right to Life, which went all out to get these bills passed: "We’ve established a beachhead in the 21st century...enough has already been accomplished to declare victory. ...This bill is monumental in that it establishes the adoption of embryos as children for adoption purposes. You donate property, but you adopt persons..." Also sending in the cavalry (à la Prop 8) were [fetus photos warning] Personhood, Christian Newswire, &c.
Within three days of Obama’s announcement, Georgia SB 169 was passed:
SB 169 (as approved):
To... provide that it shall be unlawful for any person or entity to intentionally or knowingly create or attempt to create an in vitro human embryo by any means other than fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm or intracytoplasmic sperm injection; to provide that there is no prohibition as to the use of induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells)...
That last amendedment was added at the insistence of supportersof in-vitro fertilizations as well as GBLT+ organizations, which together were a constituency meriting attention.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Preston Smith(R-Rome) wrote the amendment. When asked by Southern Voiceabout gay couples who might not be technically infertile, but cannot have children without a third party, Smith declared that "The bill does not speak to that."
"I think that from the perspective of gay and lesbian families, I’m happy with the changes that were made, but it still effects research," said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality.
The last day to advance bills in this legislative session is known as "Crossover Day." After being tabled earlier that day, SB 169 was rescued from table, passed and adopted. Senators voted along straight party lines, with all 34 Republicans casting Yea votes, and all 22 Democrats voting Nay.
The approved version was severely gutted from its original, thank goodness:
Relating to the parent and child relationship generally, toTo... provide that it shall be unlawful for any person or entity to intentionally or knowingly create or attempt to create an in vitro human embryo by any means other than fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm; to provide for standards for physicians and facilities performing in vitro sperm or intracytoplasmicsperm injection; to provide that there is no prohibition as to the use of induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS - fertilizations; to provide for judicial standards-...cells)...
Deleted articles included such tidbits as:
The in vitro human embryo shall be given an identification by the facility for use within the medical facility. Records shall be maintained that identify the donors associated with the in vitro human embryo, and the confidentiality of such records shall be maintained as required by law.
Meanwhile, the House was passing H.B. 388 (also within three days of Obama’s announcement, which was claimed to be coincidental):
A bill...relating to adoption...to change the definition of "child" to include a human embryo; to provide for definitions; to provide for procedures for embryo adoption; to provide for nonapplicability of certain dependent exemption for income tax purposes...
In typical Republican spirit, the bill specifies that adopted embryos that haven’t been born yet may not be deducted for income tax purposes.
As with the Senate version, the bill was diluted, from the first paragraph on:
enact the "Option of Adoption Act"; to define certain terms; to provide that a legal embryo custodian may relinquish rights to anchange the definition of "child" to include a human embryo; to provide for procedures; to provide that a child born as a result of such relinquished embryo shall be the legal child of the recipient; to provide for an expedited order of parentage; to amend the Official Code of Georgia Annotated so as to conformdefinitions; to provide for provisions and correct cross-references;- procedures for embryo adoption; to provide for nonapplicability of certain dependent exemption for income tax purposes...
And again, votes were on straight party lines, with all 96 Republicans casting Yea votes, and all 66 Democrats voting Nay (10 not voting and 8 excused).
Response from the medical and scientific communities was swift and damning.
Sean Tipton, director of public affairs at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said legislation that would affect stem cell research has been introduced in several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina. "It's clearly part of a national strategy and at some point it will probably succeed." Tipton said advocacy groups are targeting states where they have the best chance of success.
And, as noted in Jim Galloway’s Political Insidercolumn:
The state university system and its flagship institution opposed the measure... At the same time, polls consistently show strong public support for the research, which uses donated embryos that would otherwise be discarded.
[Governor] Perdue says the legislation poses no threat to the biotech industry in Georgia, or its future. Many in the business couldn’t disagree more.
Paul Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, said such measures are "a problematic strategy because when you define an embryo as a person, what they say is: Therefore you cannot destroy them. My response is: Therefore you cannot freeze them. How can you freeze a person and keep them suspended in animation?" He added, "The idea that they can pick and choose which aspect of human life will be relevant is interesting."
Among Atlanta’s distinguished medical and scientific research institutions are:
Georgia State Center for Brain Sciences and Health, Emory Woodruff Health Sciences Center, The Shepherd Center, which specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, acquired brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other neurological conditions.
And, of course, the National Institutes of Health, named specifically in two sections within the Executive Order:
Section 1, paragraph 2:
For the past 8 years, the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to fund and conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been limited by Presidential actions. The purpose of this order is to remove these limitations on scientific inquiry, to expand NIH support for the exploration of human stem cell research, and in so doing to enhance the contribution of America's scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of humankind.
Sec. 3. Guidance. Within 120 days from the date of this order, the Secretary, through the Director of NIH, shall review existing NIH guidance and other widely recognized guidelines on human stem cell research, including provisions establishing appropriate safeguards, and issue new NIH guidance on such research that is consistent with this order. The Secretary, through NIH, shall review and update such guidance periodically, as appropriate.
Are Georgia's pandering Republicans willing to pass legislation quelching the PO? Stay tuned as developments occur...
[Note: This diary is not an invitation for commentators to rag on Georgia, southerners in general, Civil War re-enactments, rednecks, Deliverance, etc. On request from the many southerners at Daily Kos, please don't condemn the growing spots of blue among the overwhelmingly red state. Thank you.]