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Correction to This Article
A March 3 Metro article incorrectly identified the Maryland agency that has gone on record in opposition to a bill providing state funding for stem cell research. The agency is the Department of Management and Budget, not the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Stem Cell Debate Hits Assembly

Witnesses Tell Md. Lawmakers Research Saves Lives -- or Takes Them

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page B01

John L. Kellermann III has had Parkinson's disease for 13 years, a condition so debilitating that it forces him to crawl to the bathroom some nights. Yesterday, he urged Maryland lawmakers to pass a $25 million annual initiative to fund embryonic stem cell research that might one day provide a cure for his suffering and that caused by dozens of other diseases.

Steve Johnson has been a paraplegic since a bicycle accident 12 years ago and is often "treated like a pariah" by people who encounter his wheelchair, he said. Still, he told lawmakers that he strongly opposes any research that involves the destruction of a viable embryo. His adopted daughter, who sat in Johnson's lap yesterday, was once frozen in a fertility clinic, he said.

Van Brooks, 17, a Baltimore football player who was paralyzed during a game, makes a case in Annapolis for research. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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"Each embryo destroyed for research is a life not allowed to reach its full potential," Johnson said.

The conflicting perspectives, offered at opposite ends of a three-hour legislative hearing in the House of Delegates yesterday, brought into sharp focus one of the most difficult and divisive issues confronting the Maryland General Assembly in the remaining weeks of its session.

Those divisions could ultimately scuttle the legislation, with top lawmakers expressing concern about a threatened filibuster in the Senate.

Before separate hearings in the House and Senate yesterday, supporters argued that Maryland should follow the lead of California and other states stepping forward to fund research that President Bush restricted on the federal level in 2001.

Those urging lawmakers to act included former governor Harry R. Hughes (D), John G. Gearhart, a pioneer in the field of stem cell research from Johns Hopkins University, and a stream of people with diabetes, spinal cord injuries and other conditions who might be aided by the research.

"I really think we are on the brink of a revolution," said Douglas Kerr, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins who touted the potential of stem cell research for spinal cord disorders and paralysis.

Despite the high-power show of support, there were fresh signs yesterday that the legislation faces a difficult road.

In an interview, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said Republican lawmakers continue to threaten a filibuster if the bill reaches the Senate floor.

Many GOP lawmakers, as well as some conservative Democrats, oppose embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds, arguing that the destruction of an embryo amounts to taking a human life. That argument was advanced at yesterday's hearings by Nancy E. Fortier of the Maryland Catholic Conference, who said the state should not be in the business of funding "unethical research."

Miller also expressed concern yesterday about the $25 million cost of the legislation, sponsored in his chamber by Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County).

"This bill's a long way from happening in the Senate," Miller said. "Aside from the social issues, a $25 million fiscal note makes it extremely difficult to pass in a tight fiscal year."

Supporters of the bill say they have a clearer path in the House, but a key lawmaker suggested that difficulties could be developing there, too.

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