Topeka A new poll showing widespread support in Kansas for embryonic stem cell research provided more ammunition in what will be a hotly debated issue this year.
The survey of 800 registered voters in Kansas released Thursday was commissioned by a group that opposes bans on stem cell research.
Proposed bans on what is called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer have been filed in the Kansas Legislature and by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., in Congress.
Brownback said he planned to hold hearings soon on the issue.
"It's my hope that ... we will have a full scale debate on bioethics in the United States," Brownback said recently.
The Kansas poll was overseen by Fred Steeper, a renowned Republican pollster who has served President Bush, his father and Presidents Reagan and Ford.
Steeper conducted the survey on behalf of the Kansas Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, a pro stem cell coalition of patient groups and medical organizations.
Pollsters said that Kansas voters approved using stem cells from the somatic transfer process 69 percent to 28 percent, approved of stem cell research from leftover fertility clinic embryos 66 percent to 33 percent, and favored allowing somatic transfer research in Kansas 70 percent to 27 percent.
"The voters' support of embryonic stem cell research exists both before and after they hear major arguments made by opponents and supporters," Steeper said.
Stem cells, which form early in an embryo's development, can grow into various cells to form organs and other body parts. Some scientists believe such cells could be used to repair damaged body parts and cure diseases.
In the somatic transfer process, DNA is transplanted into a woman's unfertilized egg. The egg is then stimulated to divide, as it would when fertilized by a sperm, and stem cells are harvested.
Opponents of the process say it amounts to abusing human life and experimenting with human cloning because the cells could develop further if implanted in a uterus.
But the coalition says it is not the same as cloning and that it would support banning human cloning.
"Kansans support our coalition's policy that any stem cell research, therapies, and cures allowed under federal law should be allowed in Kansas, provided that such activities are conducted ethically and safely and do not involve human reproductive cloning," said Lori Hutfles, executive director of the coalition.
In the Kansas Legislature, a bill is pending before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee that would ban the somatic transfer process.
Last year, officials from Kansas University and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research testified against the legislation. The bill never left the committee.
State Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, and one of the sponsors of the bill, did not return a telephone call for comment.
Asked about the chances of the bill being debated by the 2006 Legislature, which convenes Monday, House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said iffy at best.
"I think there will be a push. The bill is in committee, it has had a hearing and it doesn't seem to me that the chair is too inclined to move it," he said.