Stem Cell Debate Hits States

Denny Bass' 9-year-old daughter has diabetes. So does Darell Hicks' 5-year-old daughter. But the two men are on opposite sides of the issue of stem-cell research (search) using cloned human embryos.

Scientists believe such research could someday lead to a cure for diabetes and other diseases or injuries. But Louisiana is on the verge of becoming the sixth state to ban all cloning -- not just cloning to create babies, but cloning (search) to treat disease.

"Very few people who have children with diabetes agree with what I say," said Hicks, a Baptist-reared Roman Catholic convert who believes destroying embryos to obtain stem cells is immoral.

Bass, who says the answer to his child's daily ritual of finger pricks and insulin injections lies on the cutting edge of science, is unhappy with the heavy religious overtones of the debate.

"I'm not Catholic, but what is happening is, the Catholic Church is dictating how I care for my child and they're using religion to do it," he said.

The proposed ban has the support of two of Louisiana's biggest political forces: Christian conservatives in the suburbs and the rural north, and Catholics in New Orleans and the Cajun southwest.

If the measure passes, Louisiana will join Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan and the Dakotas as the only states with such broad restrictions.

Nine states ban cloning to create a baby -- Arkansas, California, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Virginia. In November, California voters will decide a bond measure that would provide $3 billion for stem cell research and explicitly allow the cloning of embryos for curing disease.

A proposed federal ban on all forms of cloning in the United States has bogged down on Capitol Hill.

Last week's death of former President Reagan, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's (search) disease in 1994, has cast a spotlight on the issue. Right before Reagan's death, former first lady Nancy Reagan and 58 U.S. senators asked President Bush to relax restrictions he placed in 2001 on the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Bush has rejected those calls.

Stem cells are the body's building blocks. Scientists believe they can be coaxed to develop into specific cell types that can be used to replace damaged tissue and treat such conditions as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries. (Scientists are less confident about the prospects for using stem cells to treat Alzheimer's.)

Diabetes happens when the body cannot produce or properly use insulin; doctors believe embryonic stem cells could be used to create insulin-producing cells.

Most embryonic stem cells are taken from excess embryos created through test-tube fertilization and donated by fertility clinics. But many scientists believe stem cells will have to be taken from embryos cloned with the patient's own DNA to avoid immune-system rejection problems.

In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco (search) may have to decide between two bills -- one that would ban all reproductive and therapeutic cloning, and another that would ban only reproductive cloning.

Blanco said she has not decided which bill she would sign should both hit her desk.