Friday, September 01, 2006

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, says stem-cell research "Orwellian"

Mass. governor says stem-cell research "Orwellian"

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, said on Thursday his administration's new restrictions on stem cell research are aimed at heading off an "Orwellian" future.

The state's Department of Public Health this week issued regulations banning the creation of embryos for research purposes.

Scientists say stem cell research could lead to breakthroughs in treatments for diseases including cancer. But the issue has become ethically and politically volatile because extracting the cells entails destruction of an embryo.

"I believe it crosses a very bright moral line to take sperm and eggs in the laboratory and start creating human life," Romney told reporters. "It is Orwellian in its scope. In laboratories you could have trays of new embryos being created."

Romney spoke a week after a Massachusetts company, Advanced Cell Technology, said it had developed a way to make human embryonic stem cells without harming the original embryo, a finding it said could dispel ethical objections.

Stem cells are the body's master cells, capable of turning into any other type of cell. They are available from many sources, but experts believe the most powerful and versatile cells may be those taken from days-old embryos.

President Bush last month vetoed a bill that would have raised federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells, which he views as the destruction of life.

Romney appears to be positioning himself for the 2008 Republican primaries, when he will need to win over conservative voters to get the party's nomination, said Julian Zelizer, a Boston University history professor who follows Romney closely.

"Stem cells are like the new abortion, in that it's become a litmus test for conservatives nationally," Zelizer said.

Massachusetts legislators opposed Romney's move, noting that in May 2005 they enacted a law over Romney's veto allowing stem cell research to take place in the state.

At that time Romney offered an amendment that would have banned the creation of embryos for research purpose.

"The legislature debated, and soundly defeated, the exact language the Department (of Public Health) has adopted as a regulation," wrote State Rep. Daniel Bosley, a Democrat, a memo to fellow legislators. "Consequently, we should oppose this language."