THE MASSACHUSETTS Senate improved, rather than weakened, its bill to encourage and regulate embryonic stem cell research yesterday. The vote came despite an ad campaign by Governor Romney in which he inadvertently revealed the weakness of his partial opposition to this potentially life-saving work.
Romney is against the cloning of embryos for research because he considers this practice the creation of ''new human life." Yet he favors stem cell research done on embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. He understands that this research has the potential to further treatment for illnesses ranging from Parkinson's disease to diabetes.
If an embryo created by cloning is human, then so is one created, but not used for, in vitro fertilization. To be consistent logically, Romney should oppose in vitro fertilization.
But most people accept that fertility treatment is a blessing for a couple seeking a child and that, though surplus embryos deserve careful treatment as precursors of human life, they are at too primitive a stage to be accorded the rights of personhood.
This same status should be given to embryos cloned for research, which also exist at a primitive level. Just to make sure that no scientist decides to go too far, the Senate bill approved yesterday contains an explicit prohibition on cloning to create a person. Violators would face imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to $1 million.
The bill, first proposed by Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, was amended yesterday to ensure that women considering donation of eggs for embryo cloning or in vitro fertilization would be informed of any risks. Another amendment provides that the commissioner of public health sit on the board that would monitor research. The commissioner ought to be involved in oversight so the state is aware of any problems as they develop.
Attention now turns to the House, where some members share Romney's worries about cloning. They ought to heed the words of Senator Kennedy, who spoke at the dedication of the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston yesterday.
''Massachusetts is blessed with the world's greatest academic and medical research institutions and many of the most brilliant scientists," he said. ''With these incomparable assets, we're uniquely poised to lead the nation and the world in this new age of discovery by supporting research breakthroughs and by fulfilling the great potential of stem cell research."
The Senate has offered a blueprint to regulate scientific inquiries that could relieve suffering and enhance people's lives throughout the world. The House should follow suit.