A Florida group calling itself Citizens for Science and Ethics said Friday it has filed a petition to amend the state's constitution to ban the use of state funds for embryonic stem-cell research.
If approved -- which would require more than 600,000 signatures on the petition by Dec. 31 -- the measure would be added to Florida's ballot in November 2006.
The move counters a proposal by Burt Aaronson, a Palm Beach County commissioner, which would establish an amendment to provide state funds for embryonic stem-cell research.
A group called Floridians for Stem Cell Research and Cures Inc. is circulating a petition supporting Aaronson's proposal.
Several states -- California in particular -- either have enacted or introduced legislation to fund embryonic stem-cell research.
Although the scientific consensus is embryonic stem-cell research could lead to insights and even cures for various diseases, some groups have objected to it because obtaining stem cells requires the destruction of human embryos -- microscopic balls of cells routinely discarded by fertilization clinics.
Susan Cutaia, CSE's president, who also is a business owner in Boca Raton, said her group is seeking a compromise "that allows public funding to pursue promising research, while at the same time creating a standard that does not disenfranchise the many taxpayers of this state who find some forms of experimentation unethical."
Cutaia said, "the promise of stem cell research can be reached through adult stem cells, umbilical-cord-blood stem cells, and placental-derived stem cells."
Adult stem cells, however, have a more limited capacity than embryonic stem cells, and scientists in general agree it is essential to conduct research on both adult and embryonic stem cells.
"It stuns me that anti-research forces continue to say there are all these diseases that have been cured by adult stem cells and yet there are all these people that still suffer from these diseases," Sean Tipton, spokesman for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, told United Press International.
CAMR, based in Washington, D.C., is a consortium of universities, patient groups and medical organizations supporting embryonic stem-cell research.
"We need to pursue all avenues of research to see which are going to get us to cures faster," Tipton said. "I don't think you foreclose what scientists believe is going to be the most promising route of this research, in order to satisfy the political demands of a few extremists."
The amendment proposed by CSE would not ban private or federal funds from being used for embryonic stem-cell research in the state.
The federal policy for embryonic stem-cell research funding, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2001, has been criticized as stifling research advances. The House of Representatives passed legislation last May -- the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act -- that would ease the Bush administration's restrictions and allow federal funds to be used on stem-cell lines derived from surplus embryos at fertilization clinics that otherwise would be discarded.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., created a stir on both sides of the debate this summer when he said he supported the legislation, but so far the bill has not been put to a vote.
Tipton said he is hearing from sources on Capitol Hill that the Senate Appropriations Committee may hold a hearing on the stem-cell issue in early October.
Bush has said he would veto the stem-cell legislation if it is passed by Congress. If so, it would be the first time he has vetoed any legislation since taking office in January 2001.