The Massachusetts legislature yesterday overturned Republican Governor Mitt Romney's veto of a bill backing stem cell research in the state. Voting 35-2 in the Senate, and 112-42 in the House, the legislators easily reached the two-thirds majority vote needed to override Friday's executive veto. The bill becomes law effective immediately.
Although Governor Romney has said he supports embryonic stem cell research, including the use of surplus embryos from fertility clinics, he surprised the Massachusetts congress in February by announcing his opposition to the legislation, because it allowed the creation of embryos using somatic cell nuclear transfer, or research cloning (ScienceNOW, 11 February).
Before the bill passed, ambiguous laws meant researchers needed to seek approval from their local district attorney to conduct stem cell experiments. The new law allows for creation of embryonic stem cells, including those from cloned embryos, and establishes regulatory oversight on several levels, while explicitly prohibiting reproductive cloning.
The Massachusetts law does not provide funding for stem cell research. Legislators will wait to see what its effects are on private investment in stem cell research in the state before seeking taxpayer dollars, says Ann Dufresne, a spokesperson for bill author and Senate President Robert Travaglini.
"This clarifies things a lot," says cell biologist Richard Hynes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and co-chair of a National Academies committee to create guidelines for embryonic stem cell research. "[Our scientists] won't move to California, because now they can do it here." But not everyone favors the new law. "The legislation is very clearly a cloning bill and a killing bill," says Massachusetts Family Institute President Kris Mineau.
The Massachusetts vote came the same day the Connecticut House of Representatives approved a 10-year, $100 million plan to fund stem cell research. Leonard Zon, a stem cell researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, hopes the growing action by states will pressure the federal government to fund stem cell research. "We're very excited that they've passed this bill," he says, "But it would have been nice for the federal government to allow us to do this research with federal dollars."