Mass. Gov. Seeks Stem Cell Rule Reversal

The Associated Press
Friday, March 30, 2007; 1:58 PM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said Friday he will push to reverse stem cell research restrictions imposed by his predecessor, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

The changes last August prompted complaints from researchers who said they could be prohibited from using some embryonic stem cells. They also argued the restrictions undercut a 2005 law that had been approved by the Legislature over Romney's veto.

Patrick told a meeting of the Life Sciences Collaborative on Friday that he would ask the Public Health Council, which approved the changes, to revisit the policy. In effect, Patrick will be able to reverse the policy, since he will gain control over the panel next week amid an overhaul linked to the state's new health insurance law.

"I believe that life sciences should be guided by science, not politics," Patrick told the roundtable of biotechnology officials.

The governor said researchers should not have to compete globally "under a regulatory cloud, or to do so with one-hand tied behind their back."

He said he hoped the council would create a hospitable regulatory climate "and then get out of the way so that you can do what you were trained to do, and so that your imagination and creativity can have the full range of its potential."

Embryonic stem cells have the capacity to become any cell in the body, and scientists are eager to expand their research with them to treat a variety of diseases, from Alzheimer's to diabetes. Patrick noted that his mother-in-law suffers from both, while his late mother had lupus.

Abortion opponents complain about the destruction of embryos that occurs in harvesting the cells. Romney has been heavily courting social conservatives.

Massachusetts' 2005 law banned the creation of embryos for the sole intent of donating them for research. It also clarified that district attorneys could not charge scientists for the type of research they perform.

Romney's regulations, however, stated that embryos could not be created for the sole intent of using them in research.

Patrick said reversing the Romney policy would restore the intent of the Legislature.

"That political debate happened during the debate about the legislation," Patrick said in discussing stem cells. "And then there was a vote, and the governor's previous position did not prevail in that vote. And then he re-imposed it in the regulations. That's a problem."

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Patrick and Romney are politically "very different people."

"The stem cell regulations we drafted were aimed at preventing embryo farming, the large scale cultivation of embryos for the sole purpose of research and experimentation," Fehrnstrom said.

The new governor also reversed changes Romney had made in immigration policy and some spending cuts.

© 2007 The Associated Press