Supporters believe embryonic stem cell research could lead the way to treating serious ailments, such as Parkinson's disease and spinal injuries. But opponents, including many religious groups, argue that the promise of embryonic stem cells is overblown and that the work is an assault on life in its earliest form.
On Monday, Georgia Senate Republicans pushed the "Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act" through a key committee with little debate and just eight minutes of testimony. The measure would define an embryo as a person. It would ban the creation of an embryo for scientific research in the state and would also prevent the destruction of fertilized embryos for any reason. Violators could face a fine of up to $1,000 per offense and be stripped of their medical licenses.
The Georgia bill is believed to be the first state measure reining in embryonic stem cell research after Mr. Obama revealed plans to overturn restrictions put in place by President Bush. Mr. Obama's announcement in Washington on Monday morning came as the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee cleared the Georgia measure by a vote of 7-6. The bill had only passed subcommittee about two hours earlier by a 2-1 vote.
"We are asking for the destruction of human life to be curtailed in the state of Georgia," Dan Becker, president of the group Georgia Right to Life, told the Senate panel. "This is the beginning, the foundation."
Gov. Sonny Perdue said he does not favor embryonic stem cell research.
"I am absolutely opposed to creating embryos to cure a disease," Mr. Perdue told reporters Monday. "I think there are other tissues that can be used and we can develop that research to cure disease."
As part of his economic development strategy, Mr. Perdue has been pushing to make Georgia a hub for life sciences and biological research and development.
But critics said the bill would undermine that. They contend the measure closes the door on promising forms of stem cell research in Georgia even as federal money begins to flow to promote it.
"Make no mistake ... this will prohibit embryonic stem cell research in the state," Russell Medford, past chairman of Georgia Bio, an industry group, said. "It will have the effect of branding Georgia as an anti-technology state."
Although the bill was stripped of earlier provisions that would have limited the number of fertilized eggs a woman may be implanted with, medical experts said the revised bill still complicates in vitro fertilization treatments in the state by banning the destruction of human embryos. Fertility clinics could be forced to store unused embryos forever and doctors could also face worries about what would happen if they destroy embryos as part of the fertility treatment.
"This would drastically change IVF in this state," said Dr. Jim Toner, an Atlanta reproductive endocrinologist.
The bill could face a Senate vote this week. It must still pass the House.