Michigan Ad Compares Stem Cell Study to Tuskegee Study

A television ad created by opponents of a ballot measure that would allow embryonic stem-cell research in Michigan likens such work to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study.

The ad, which began running Tuesday in the Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw areas, shows newspaper headlines and other references to the Tuskegee study.

In the study by the U.S. Public Health Service in Tuskegee, Ala., poor, black men with syphilis weren't told they had the disease and were denied treatment when penicillin became available in the 1940s. The widely criticized study ended in 1972.

Proposal 2 on the November ballot would change the state constitution to allow people to donate embryos left over from fertility treatments for scientific research.

"Unfortunately, unrestricted science has had an ugly past," the announcer warns, "and it's been unfairly applied to the vulnerable and minorities. Proponents of Proposal 2 are now seeking the right to conduct unregulated scientific experimentation on live human embryos. They say they'll have oversight and follow federal restrictions. But the problem is, there are none. Research without restrictions? Too much room for too much abuse."

Dr. Lisa Newman, a University of Michigan professor of surgery, said in a statement released by backers of Proposal 2 that the ad "features distortions, fear-mongering and dangerous misrepresentations."

"As a doctor and an African-American, I am outraged that this ad would use a tragedy in medical history to misinform the public about health care research," Newman said.

A spokesman for the group responsible for the ad said it merely shows an example of the horrors of past unregulated scientific experimentation.

"We use an example of something that people recognize is a failure of federal oversight, of state oversight," said Dave Doyle of Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan has said research on human embryos mainly would be regulated by the federal government if Proposal 2 passes. Embryonic stem-cell research conducted with federal funding is regulated by the National Institutes of Health, according the research council's review.

Doyle contends that the proposal would keep Michigan lawmakers from regulating stem cell research, therapies or cures. He noted that not all research is funded federally.

The proposal is being fought most fiercely by Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference, which is the largest financial backer of the opposition group.