Stem cell controversy could see new life with regent election shuffle

The departure of three University of Nebraska regents this year and the re-election campaign of a fourth is reviving debate over a controversial issue some believe should be laid to rest.

Two of the three departing regents, Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons and Jim McClurg of Lincoln, opposed a proposal considered by the Board of Regents in November 2009 that would have limited embryonic stem cell research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to only cell lines approved under former President George W. Bush. Expansion had become a possibility since President Barack Obama relaxed the Bush guidelines.

Hassebrook and McClurg joined two other regents in killing the proposal by voting against the four who supported it. Pro-life activists believe embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong because harvesting the stem cells requires destroying an embryo.

Regent Randy Ferlic of Omaha, who supported the proposal to limit the research, also will leave the Board of Regents after this year. Bob Whitehouse of Papillion, who opposed the measure, is seeking re-election. Ten candidates are seeking the three retiring regents' seats, and candidate, Larry Bradley, is challenging Whitehouse.

Pro-life advocates said they see opportunity in the departure of two of the regents who opposed limiting stem cell research, but they aren't ready to say they'll ask like-minded regents to reintroduce a proposal to limit the research.

"That would be a place we could stand to gain if we had pro-lifers in the race who we're willing to endorse," said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life.

Nebraska Right to Life endorsed McClurg during his regents campaign, and Schmit-Albin said she believed he would have supported limiting embryonic stem cell research. When he voted against the proposal, however, Nebraska Right to Life ended its support of him, she said.

The group has become more careful in choosing candidates to endorse, Schmit-Albin said, sending out surveys to candidates and incumbents seeking re-election before the primary. It has yet to receive responses from those surveys, she said, so Nebraska Right to Life has yet to endorse any candidates this year.

Schmit-Albin said some regents candidates have contacted the group seeking endorsement, but she declined to name them. She said the group wouldn't endorse Whitehouse because he voted against the stem cell proposal in November 2009.

"He already has a record," she said.

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Stem cell controversy could see new life with regent election shuffle

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