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Virginia Researchers Breathe Sigh of Relief after Senate Kills 'Personhood' Bill in 11th Hour Move

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The bill would have provided that "unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of the commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the commonwealth." The action came not long after a Senate committee voted along party lines to approve the bill, despite the opposition of those who argued that the broad measure could prohibit birth control and in vitro fertilization.

Among those advocating against the bill was the Stem Cell Action Coalition, an initiative of the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI). The Coalition is a group of 75 nonprofit-affiliated organizations including patient groups, medical philanthropies, scientific and medical societies and public interest organizations all dedicated to advancing scientifically meritorious and ethically responsible research. It argued that along with interfering with reproductive and related rights of women and couples, the law would prevent the pursuit of medical research in Virginia that utilizes human embryonic stem cells.

It also speculated that Virginia researchers deriving embryonic stem cells from donated embryos could be charged with capital crimes and that couples donating embryos to research might be charged as accessories. In addition to Virginia, similar efforts to pass "personhood" legislation are underway in Oklahoma and other states.

Bernard Siegel is editor of the Stem Cell Action Newsletter and founder and executive director of the GPI. Prior to the vote, he issued a letter to Coalition supporters that said in part, "It is a sad day indeed when the Commonwealth of Virginia should become an outpost for extremism by impeding potentially lifesaving scientific research. Thomas Jefferson would be appalled."

Shortly after the Virginia legislature's decision to kill the bill he tweeted: "Victory! Va Senate kills personhood bill for 2012 — voices of sanity prevail. On to Oklahoma."

Similar proposals have been defeated in other states, including a referendum in Mississippi last November.

Learn more:
PR Newswire
Huffington Post
Stem Cell Action Coalition