House Bill 398, which would require Maryland hospitals to offer pregnant mothers the option of donating umbilical tissue from their newborns to medical research, was considered by its sponsor a "no-brainer."
It could potentially save the state millions down the road in Medicaid payments while also saving lives, according to Del. Carmen Amedori, a Republican who represents Baltimore and Carroll counties.
But it comes on the heels of the first successful cloning of human embryos in South Korea, and in the midst of a national debate on legislation to ban human cloning, and some say the legislation falls far short of more radical laws medical advocacy groups are lobbying for across the country.
"It is one form of research and a good form of research, but it's a cop-out," said Carol Walton, executive director of the Parkinson Alliance. The group is based in Princeton, N.J., where the governor signed into law last month the second state measure in the country that permits embryonic stem-cell research.
Stem cells harvested from umbilical cords and placentas, and which produce adult blood cells, are sometimes transplanted into people suffering from leukemia, sickle-cell anemia and other blood diseases. Scientists are also trying to redirect them to produce other types of cells needed by patients suffering problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes.
Though the research is still at an early stage, proponents of umbilical cord blood harvesting say it is an efficient way to provide an abundant cache of cells. And anti-abortion advocates consider it an attractive alternative to harvesting stem cells from embryos, which some people equate to abortion.
Research is much further along on embryonic stem cells, which are capable of morphing into any cell type in the human body.
Members of the House Health and Government Operations committee gave little indication that Amedori's bill, modeled after a new law in Illinois, was a popular one. Delegates questioned the bill's necessity and expressed skepticism about the financial burden it might impose on the state's hospitals. Aside from its sponsors, the lone supporter to testify was a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference whose title is associate director for justice, pro-life and human rights.
After the hearing, a dejected Amedori, who has co-sponsored a bill that would ban human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, lamented that lawmakers had dismissed her measure as "a pro-life issue."
"This bill is not a moral philosophical alternative for me. It's just a simple solution," she said.
Sun staff writer Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.