ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Anna Royer had already given her 3-year-old son Bryton three insulin injections by noon. She would need to give him two more shots and prick him 12 times to check his blood sugar before the day was over.
"His little fingers look like pin cushions," she said of Bryton, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 2004.
Royer, of Owings, Md., was in Annapolis Wednesday to testify before state legislators about embryonic stem-cell research, the focus of a controversial bill that promises to spark a heated battle in the state Senate. The bill would provide $25 million for this specific research.
Anna and Bryton Royer were the human faces on one side of a passionate debate over the morality of stem-cell research that is of such power it could well provoke a filibuster and tie up the General Assembly in its last session before the 2006 elections.
Supporters of the bill say funding embryonic stem-cell research is crucial to finding cures to a multitude of diseases. Opponents of the bill say the research kills living human fetuses.
Sponsored by Democratic General Assmebly members Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg and Senator Paula Hollinger, the bill is very similar to one blocked last year by a threatened Republican filibuster.
Hollinger said she expects Republican senators to resist the bill again this session, but believes she can garner enough support to end a Senate filibuster. She said she plans to bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor within two weeks — unusually quick action for a major bill so early in the session.
But according to state Senator J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the leader of the Senate Republicans, enough senators are opposed to the current bill to defeat a vote to cut off debate and end a filibuster. He said 20 senators opposed the bill and that only 19 were needed to keep the Senate from either voting on the bill or moving on to other business.
A filibuster could tie up the General Assembly early in the session, freezing the progress of all other legislation. Usually, filibusters are attempted only in the waning days of a session, when legislators desperate to have their bills passed are most susceptible to the implicit threat of tying up the Senate.
Wednesday's hearings on the Democrats' stem cell bill come two weeks after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich announced a budget proposal to provide $20 million to fund stem-cell research. Ehrlich's proposal does not specify whether the funding would go to embryonic stem cell research.
Stoltzfus said he supports stem cell research in general, but is strongly opposed to the embryonic stem-cell research mandated by the Democrats' bill because he says it results in the destruction of the embryos.
"Killing a fetus is killing a human being," he said. "You can't justify killing a fetus to help a person."
Many religious conservatives are opposed to use of embryonic stem cells, believing that life begins at conception and that it is immoral to destroy the ball of cells that comprises an embryo.
Instead, they support using stem cells that come from adults or from the umbilical cords of infants. They also argue that it hasn't been widely proven that embryonic cells are much more useful for research than adult stem cells.
Many researchers argue, however, that embryonic stem cells hold the unique potential for becoming any type of cell in the human body and thus offer great promise for medical breakthroughs.
"It's widely acknowledged that one of the greatest discoveries in biology has been the embryonic stem cell," said John D. Gearhart, the director of Johns Hopkins' stem cell research program, testifying before legislators.
Laboratory researchers have used embryonic stem cells to generate many types of cells, from heart tissue to the nerve cells, and these might some day replace damaged cells in patients, he said.
Gearhart said the proposed $25 million in funding is a substantial sum of money that would make a big difference in moving the research forward.
The sponsors of the Democratic funding bill said that stem cells hold economic and medical promise and that the embryos used for the research would be excess embryos from women who underwent fertility treatments.
"Unfortunately, while they filibuster there are going to be a lot of embryos hitting the trash," Hollinger said.
Anna Royer said she does not know if stem cell research is the answer to curing Bryton's diabetes but that new research is needed.
"The treatment for diabetes has been the same for 30 years," she said. "I have to try to find a way to the future for him. Without us trying, without us going forward, how will we know?"
Capital News Service contributed to this report.