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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Voting on stem cell funding advances

Byline: KATE THAYER; Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau

Edition: Illinois Five Star Lift

Section: Metro


A state Senate committee on Thursday approved letting Illinois voters decide whether the state should pay for stem cell research.

The Health and Human Services Committee sent the measure to the Senate floor on a 7-4 vote along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The measure would also need House approval. If approved, voters will decide in November next year if the state should borrow $1 billion in bonds to issue stem cell research grants. A 6 percent tax on elective, cosmetic surgeries would pay back the bonds.

"My sense is that an overwhelming majority of people who live in Illinois want to help researchers find cures to (diseases)," said state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg. The Evanston Democrat is sponsoring Hynes' proposal.

Some believe stem cell research could lead to cures for several diseases and spinal cord injuries. The issue is controversial because the cells often must be harvested from embryos.

Plastic surgeons are against the tax, saying it is unfair because most of their patients are women. They also say determining which procedures are medically necessary and which are solely cosmetic is difficult.

"You've got to find a better, more stable way (to fund research)," said Jeffrey Poulter, a Bloomington plastic surgeon who attended a Senate hearing on the issue.

Poulter and other physicians say patients will travel to other states to avoid paying the tax.

However, Hynes said patients base decisions on where to have surgery on the location of a doctor they trust, not on the tax.

"Nobody's going to travel 100 miles to avoid a $24 fee on a Botox injection," he said.

The proposed 6 percent tax would add more than $300 to the price of a typical nose job, which costs between $5,000 to $7,500. Botox injections are about $390, according to Hynes.

Hynes added a cosmetic surgery tax is not a "sin tax" and he is not trying to punish those who get cosmetic surgery.

"The money (cosmetic surgery patients) pay will help save lives. That is a miraculous thing and a sensible thing," he said.

Many religions are against funding embryonic stem cell research because they believe an embryo is just as "human" as a human being.

Embryonic stem cell research "divides the human species into humans and nonhumans," said Monsignor Stuart Swetland of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

Hynes said he thinks the debate on whether or not embryonic stem cell research is moral will continue as he pushes for the measure.

"I really believe (the financial issues) can be addressed, and that would leave us only to the issue of whether this is the type of research the state should invest in -- whether it is ethical and moral," he said. "I believe this is research that can save lives and do so in a moral and ethical way and a responsible way."

(Copyright (c) 2005 The Post-Dispatch)