Topeka — A fight against human cloning and embryonic stem cell research blocked legislators' way Monday as they sought to resolve budget and tax issues.
The dispute centered on a provision the House added to its version of a bill lawmakers must pass to complete the next state budget. The provision bans the state from using tax revenues to finance research into human cloning.
Supported by abortion opponents, the provision covers research that involves inserting cellular material into a human egg. The Senate rejected a cloning ban in March, and its negotiators don't want the anti-cloning provision in the budget.
"We don't know why we're even doing this in a budget bill," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer.
Setting cloning policy
Supporters of the provision contend legislators need to set a cloning policy and, until then, shouldn't fund embryonic stem cell research, which abortion opponents view as cloning.
"It's just totally unethical to create human beings for research purposes," said Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group.
The spending bill is expected to contain about $100 million, the last piece of a budget approaching $12 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Legislative leaders consider its passage necessary to end the 2006 session, along with approval of a plan for increasing aid to public schools and tax legislation that includes Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposal to phase out property taxes on business machinery and equipment.
Compromise tax legislation was ready for the House and Senate to consider, but budget negotiators couldn't finish their work without deciding how to address human cloning. House members insisted on keeping an anti-cloning provision in the budget.
"The Senate has not been willing to discuss the issue adequately, to explain to me why it should be taken out," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, his chamber's lead negotiator.
Implications to research
Umbarger said he's worried legislators will do something that will block research that could lead to medical cures. He said they should study cloning this summer and fall before enacting a policy.
"The real question is, at what point are we going to make that distinction between human cloning and therapeutic cloning?" he said.
Abortion opponents don't see a distinction.
The provision in the budget bill describes human cloning as introducing material from the nucleus of tissue cells into an egg before it is mature. The definition covers what's known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.
In that process, researchers replace the nucleus of an unfertilized human egg with the nucleus of another cell, stimulate growth in a lab dish, harvest the resulting embryonic stem cells and destroy what's left. Stem cells form early in an embryo's development and can mature into various cells to form organs and other body parts.
Supporters of such research argue it doesn't represent human cloning, because it cannot result in the birth of a baby, only a mass of cells that can be used for medical treatment.
Critics of such research contend the mass of cells is a human embryo because an egg with 23 human chromosomes ends up with the full 46. Normally, the other half is supplied by sperm.
There's also an intense debate over the promise of such research.
Less than two weeks ago, the Parkinson Foundation of the Heartland joined a coalition dedicated to protecting such research, arguing that it could lead to treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and even a cure.
Gawdun and other critics scoff at such rhetoric and note successful research being done with "adult" stem cells harvested from sources such as umbilical cord blood.