A bill that would make it a felony to knowingly destroy a human embryo for stem cell research or any other purpose cruised through the state House of Representatives on Tuesday by a vote of 73-14.
It now goes to the state Senate.
“For me, and I believe a majority of Oklahomans, the real question is about life. When does life begin? I believe it begins at conception,” said state Rep. Dan Fisher, one of the authors of House Bill 2070. “I believe that Oklahoma needs to go down in history and on the record books as saying we are adamantly opposed to the intentional destruction of embryos.”
State Rep. Doug Cox, a Grove medical doctor, argued against the bill, saying that while he respects the intentions of the bill’s authors, “it goes a little overboard and sends a message to the rest of the world that Oklahoma is closing the door on stem cell research.”
Cox said it’s too early to say where stem cell research will lead, but stem cells are being used in research into heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy and autism.
Fisher said his bill would ban couples from destroying frozen embryos that are left over following in vitro fertilization as well as embryonic stem cell research that results in their destruction.
Excess embryos left over from in vitro fertilization would either need to be kept frozen forever or provided to others who want to adopt the embryos and grow them into babies, he said.
“They’re called snowflake babies, because they were frozen,” Fisher said.
Cox questioned the practicality of requiring the retention of excess embryos used for in vitro fertilization.
“With each in vitro fertilization, there’s many, many more embryos created than can be used,” said Cox, R-Grove. “The question you have to ask yourself is, ‘What happens to these unused embryos?’ Yes, some of them can be used for adoption. Most of them are not. It becomes up to the owner of the embryos ... as to what happens to them. They can either pay in perpetuity for keeping these embryos frozen or they can say we no longer need them. Those are the ones that are sometimes used for embryonic stem cell research.”
If embryo owners are forbidden from allowing them to be destroyed, the question becomes who will pay to keep the embryos alive forever, he said.
“Is it going to be us, the taxpayers? That’s the question you have to ask yourselves,” he said.
A person could be imprisoned for one year to life and fined up to $100,000 for violating terms of the act, if it becomes law.
House co-author Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said the Legislature passed the same basic bill a few years ago, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry.
The bill Henry vetoed was commonly referred to as the “personhood bill.”