Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele apologized Friday for comparing embryonic stem cell research to Nazi medical experiments, saying, "in no way did I intend to equate the two."

Steele had made the remark to the Baltimore Jewish Council on Thursday after speaking about a recent trip to Israel. One of the audience members had asked for his thoughts on stem cell research.

"You, of all folks, know what happens when people decide to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool," Steele said in remarks reported by The (Baltimore) Sun.

"I know that as well in my community, out of our experience with slavery," added Steele, who is black. "And so I'm very cautious when people say this is the best new thing, this is going to save lives."

The council's executive director, Art Abramson, said the audience was quiet after Steele's remark. The lieutenant governor, who is seeking a Senate seat, left soon afterward.

Steele's Democratic opponents denounced the remarks, even after Steele issued an apology. "It was really quite horrifying," said Myrna Cardin, a member of the council and the wife of Steele's Senate race opponent.

Abramson said Steele called him Friday to apologize.

"The Holocaust was a unique event in the history of mankind, and the kinds of experiments that were conducted on human beings by Nazis and their henchmen ... are beyond comparison, and I think the lieutenant governor would agree with that," Abramson said.

Steele also apologized in a statement, noting he had just finished speaking about his "powerful memories" of visiting a Holocaust museum in Israel.

"Those memories have had a lasting impression on me, but in no way did I intend to equate the two or trivialize the pain and suffering of more than six million Jews," the statement read.

Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Steele should be forgiven for his error, calling him "a straight-up guy."

State lawmakers are debating funding for stem cell research. Ehrlich has proposed $20 million for stem cell research, while letting a technology development corporation determine whether to fund embryonic stem cell research or less controversial work on adult cells.