Oklahoma is now attacking stem cell research

Oklahoma was recently in the news because a Christian politician tried to ban world-renowned biologist Richard Dawkins from speaking at the university. Now, another politician wants to ban the stem cell research finally approved by president Obama.

According to its constitution, the United States are a country where there is freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. The government is secular, i.e. religion is not allowed to interfere with government. For good reason. When the United States were founded, Europe was largely in the grip of Catholicism and Protestantism, two flavours of a religion with a bloody past that was still an impediment to progress, in spite of its weaning power. 

Over time, however, religion has managed to become firmly entrenched in American government circles, up to and including the president. One of the results of this increasing Christian power was that the government did not want to support stem cell research, a new and promising avenue of research that may lead to the development of therapies for a large number of debilitating conditions, from diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease. 

The state of Oklahoma was recently in the news, because rep. Todd Thomsen filed two house resolutions in an effort to ban world-renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins from lecturing at the University of Oklahoma. 

Now, the state of Oklahoma is once again in the news. This time, Reuters reports that rep. Mike Reynolds wants to ban stem cell research in the state. 

In order to do that, he introduced bill 1326 on March 16, 2009, not only to ban stem cell research, but pretty much anything in which a fertilized human egg cell is involved. 

In a telephone interview, Reynolds said: 

“I absolutely believe that if the federal government messes things up, states have a right to straighten it out.” 

“I believe the federal government has infringed on several states’ rights. The right to protect lives is one.” 

“My motivation is to protect unborn children.” 

This is the main text of the Bill: 

1. “Human embryo” means a living organism of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest stages of development, including the single-celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female; and 
2. “Nontherapeutic research” means research that is not intended to help preserve the life and health of the particular embryo subjected to risk. This term does not include in vitro fertilization and accompanying embryo transfer to the body of a female, or any diagnostic test which may assist in the future care of a child subjected to the tests. 
B. No person shall: 
1. Knowingly conduct nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death; 
2. Transfer a human embryo with the knowledge that the embryo will be subjected to nontherapeutic research; or 
3. Use for research purposes cells or tissues that the person knows were obtained by performing activities in violation of this section. 
C. Any person or any business entity recognized by the laws of this state that engages in, or is associated with a business entity that engages in, the actions prohibited by subsection B of this section shall not be eligible for any Oklahoma income tax credits. No state agency or retirement system shall invest in a business entity that engages in the acts prohibited by subsection B of this section. 
D. Any person found violating the provisions of subsection B of this section shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor. 

Reynolds is an Ordained Deacon and a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church. 

This bill raises a number of ethical questions. Note that the bill explicitly allows for in vitro fertilization and diagnostic tests. In vitro fertilization and diagnostic tests have been and are being developed thanks to research on -in part- human embryos. Hence, the bill contradicts itself. Moreover, Oklahoma citizens whose lives depend on undergoing stem cell based treatment, cannot receive this treatment and must be allowed to die. 

This bill is not based on objective science, but on a religious viewpoint. As such, it is a violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the US constitution.

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