- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Advocates for embryonic stem-cell research began a push for state research funds yesterday.

They asked Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to include $25 million in next year’s budget and promised quick action when the legislature meets in January to prevent opponents from killing their bill with a filibuster.

A stem-cell research bill passed the House of Delegates in March, but a Senate bill died on the final day of the session, when opponents refused to stop talking and let it come to a vote.

“We are going to get this bill past the Senate this year,” said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat and chairman of the committee that handles health legislation.

Mrs. Hollinger said the bill would be the first one brought to the Senate by her committee soon after the General Assembly convenes in January, making it much harder for opponents to sustain a filibuster.

Her comments came at a press conference announcing the formation of Maryland Families for Stem Cell Research to lobby the governor and the General Assembly to provide state funds for research on embryonic stem cells, which hold the potential to develop into any kind of tissue in the body.

Supporters think research on cells taken from embryos could lead to treatments or cures for a variety of medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

Critics question whether research will produce such cures and oppose it because embryos are destroyed when the stem cells are extracted.

Bills to be introduced by Mrs. Hollinger and others would restrict use of state funds to research on embryos left over from fertility treatments that would otherwise be destroyed.

Former Gov. Harry Hughes is chairman of the new group, and two other former governors — Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer — are honorary chairmen.

Mr. Hughes said he sent a letter to Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, on Friday asking him to put money in the budget for stem-cell research, but has not yet gotten a response.

Henry Fawell, spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, said the governor will respond to the Hughes letter, but would not say what the response will be.

Mr. Ehrlich “has always been very supportive of the concept of stem-cell research” and “is currently working with Maryland’s medical institutions and research community to ensure they have the resources they need to be at the forefront of medical research,” Mr. Fawell said.

Asked whether Mr. Ehrlich is willing to commit funding in next year’s budget, he said: “It is still very early. The discussions are ongoing.”

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