Senate Bill 148, the “Saving the Cure Act,” was introduced by Senator David Shafer (R-Duluth) and 29 other members of the State Senate on February 13, 2007. Subtitled “Keone’s Law,” the bill is named in honor of Keone Penn, a young man from Gwinnett County who in 1998 was cured of sickle cell anemia by an umbilical cord stem cell treatment.
Findings of Fact
Stem cell research has been hampered by the ethical controversy over embryonic stem cells, which are presently derived in a process that results in the destruction of a human embryo. But stem cells are widely available from sources other than human embryos and from processes that do not result in the destruction of human life at any stage of development.
In fact, the umbilical cord, placental tissue and amniotic fluid are rich in stem cells that may be used for medical research and treatment without harm to the baby or mother. Stem cells are also found in adult tissues like bone marrow. These non-controversial stem cells are being used to treat anemia, leukemia, and lymphoma. They are also being studied as therapy for a host of other medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and spinal cord injury.
In Georgia, and most everywhere, the umbilical cord and placenta are treated as medical waste after the baby is born. This treasure trove of stem cells is routinely thrown away after newborn delivery.
Senate Bill 148 encourages the donation and collection of the umbilical cord and other postnatal tissue for medical research and treatment. It encourages research using stem cells from these non-controversial sources. Its objective is to make Georgia a leader in nondestructive stem cell research — the type of stem cell research that is delivering cures without ethical controversy.
Georgia Commission to Save the Cure
Senate Bill 148 creates the Georgia Commission to Save the Cure to oversee the Georgia Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank and promote “non-destructive stem cell research.” The commission, which comes into existence on July 1, 2007, will have fifteen members appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House.
Seven of the fifteen members of the commission will be appointed by the Governor. Four members each will be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker. The Lieutenant Governor and Speaker must each appoint a medical doctor, a medical researcher engaged in nondestructive stem cell research, a medical ethicist and lawyer practicing in health policy.
Georgia Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank
Senate Bill 148 authorizes creation of the Georgia Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank as a network of public and private blood banks to collect and store postnatal tissue and fluid that is normally thrown away after a newborn delivery. The bill contemplates that the network of banks will be up and running by July 1, 2008.
The bill provides that, after July 1, 2009, every expectant Georgia mother will be given information by her doctor on the full range of options with regard to postnatal tissue and fluid, including private storage and public donation. Every Georgia mother will be given the opportunity to “save the cure.”
The Commission to Save the Cure is authorized, among other things, to seek federal funding from the National Cord Blood Progam, create a nonprofit foundation for private funding and receive voluntary income tax check off contributions.
The Georgia Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank will likely require a start up appropriation by the General Assembly, although it is contemplated that the bank will be self supporting and potentially profitable. Insurers typically pay as much as $30,000 or more for stem cells used in medical treatment, creating a substantial revenue stream from the bank once it is operational. Additional income is expected from fees paid by researchers who utilize stem cells that are not suitable for medical treatment.
Restrictions on Public Funding of Stem Cell Research
The final version of the bill includes a new section that requires all public funds expended for stem cell research to meet the limitations and restrictions of both current federal law and the proposed Senate Resolution 30, the Hope through Principled and Ethical Stem Cell Research Act, as approved by the United States Senate on April 11, 2007. Current federal law prohibits the use of public funds for research involving embryonic stem cells derived from embryos destroyed after August 9, 2001. Senate Resolution 30 prohibits the use of public funds for research involving the destruction of living embryos. Both current federal law and the proposed Senate Resolution 30 prohibit the use of public funds for human cloning.
The funding restrictions in the original version of the bill applied only to the Georgia Commission to Save the Cure. The restrictions set out in the final version of the bill, agreed to by Senator Shafer and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, apply to all of state government, including the University System of Georgia.