On Wednesday, Gov. Brad Henry was poised to veto House Bill 1326. On behalf of patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, we urge Oklahoma legislators to sustain this veto.
Proponents of this law have tried to make this a debate about abortion, but it is not. Oklahoma law already prohibits the use of any tissue obtained from abortions for research. We support this. But HB 1326 does something else entirely: It makes human embryonic stem cell research a crime. This is what we oppose. But how can we support stem cell research and advocate banning research on tissue from abortion? Because embryonic stem cells aren’t obtained by abortion; they are created by in vitro fertilization. These cells have never been implanted in a woman’s womb. If they were not used for research, they would be discarded as medical waste. To perform in vitro fertilization, doctors obtain eggs from the ovary of a woman and mix them in a laboratory with a man’s sperm. This process uses multiple eggs, and if successful, the sperm will fertilize many eggs. Doctors then place some of these fertilized eggs (now called blastocysts) in the woman’s uterus (womb) in hopes that they will implant, develop into a human fetus and result in the birth of a healthy baby. The blastocysts cannot develop into a baby without being implanted in a womb. The remaining eggs that aren’t implanted are frozen and kept in a freezer as a backup in case the pregnancy isn’t successful. But if it is successful, then at some point the couple who owns the frozen blastocysts has to decide what to do with them: They can be kept frozen indefinitely, discarded or donated for research. It’s estimated that in the United States there are almost one-half million blastocysts in freezers, many of which will be discarded.