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Perdue signs order to facilitate nonembryonic stem-cell research

LAWRENCEVILLE - Legislation encouraging stem-cell research in Georgia died on the last night of this year's General Assembly session, the victim of a filibuster on an unrelated measure that ran out the clock.

With passing a bill now no longer an option, Gov. Sonny Perdue did the next best thing Friday, signing an executive order creating a state commission to develop a network to collect and store donations of umbilical cord blood and other byproducts of childbirth that are rich in stem cells.

"The governor's executive order implements 95 percent of the bill,'' said Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, who sponsored the Senate bill as chairman of the upper chamber's Science and Technology Committee.

Perdue signed the order at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, which houses an outpatient cancer center and blood disorders service.

"Collecting nonembryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood is safe, painless and risk-free,'' he said. "Cord blood treatments are an ethically responsible way to relieve suffering and save lives.''

The difference between embryonic and nonembryonic stem cell research touched off one of the hottest controversies of the recently concluded session.

Shafer's original bill drew strong protests from Democrats and some scientific experts who claimed a provision banning human cloning effectively would have criminalized ongoing embryonic stem cell research in Georgia.

Shafer said he didn't want the measure to address embryonic stem cell research because of the national controversy surrounding using days-old embryos left over from fertility treatment for research.

"Stem cells from umbilical cords can be used to save lives without destroying human life at any stage of development,'' he said Friday.

However, to get the bill through the Senate, Shafer agreed to remove the section on cloning, and it cleared the Senate unanimously on March 13.

The bill also passed the House on a unanimous vote on the last day of the session, March 30. But the House had made some minor changes, forcing it to return to the Senate that night.

That's when it got shelved by a brief filibuster that began minutes before the midnight adjournment deadline and ran until Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor gaveled the session to a close.

Perdue's executive order creates a 15-member volunteer commission to be appointed by the governor. It will have until the end of next year to develop a network of universities, hospitals, nonprofit groups and private companies to accept donations of postnatal tissue and fluid and store the material for use in stem cell research.

The order instructs the commission to promote awareness among pregnant patients of donation opportunities and look for funding sources for medical research and treatment.

Unlike Shafer's bill, however, it does not instruct obstetricians to make sure their patients are aware of the program.

"The provision dealing with what doctors must tell their patients requires legislation,'' he said.

Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur, criticized Perdue for ignoring the potential of embryonic stem cell research. Adelman introduced a bill early in this year's session to encourage research using both embryonic and nonembryonic stem cells.

"Georgia continues to fall behind,'' Adelman said in a written statement Friday. "Other states have put science and medicine before politics.''

But Shafer said more than 70 treatments and cures have been developed through research using "adult'' stem cells, while none have come through embryonic stem cells.