On November 4, Michigan voters enacted a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research in their state. The amendment allows the use of human embryos for research in Michigan so long as the embryos: (1) were created for fertility treatment; (2) are in excess of those required for implantation; (3) are not suitable for implantation; (4) would otherwise be discarded; and (5) were donated with informed consent by the person seeking fertility treatment. The research must be done in accordance with federal law and with the additional restrictions (on the purchase of hESCs, for example) included in the amendment.

This is a huge step forward for Michigan, a state that previously had prohibited the donation and destruction of embryos for research purposes. Now, with private funding sources, researchers in Michigan can help move this country closer to finding the cures and treatments that so many scientists believe may be discovered through hESC research.

Michigan researchers, along with all others in the United States, may also benefit from a change in administration, as there is now hope that President Bush’s restrictive policies on funding hESC research will be lifted. The removal of these and other obstacles will bring us closer to promoting ethical research and the free exchange of information about developments in hESC science.

For a more in depth discussion of the First Amendment implications of state and federal hESC research policies over the past seven years, see Censoring Science: A Stem Cell Story by Katherine A. Rabb, Director, The Knowledge Project: Censorship & Science.