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Illinois launches stem-cell research institute without public approval

.- Pro-life leaders in Illinois are outraged that Gov. Rod Blagojevich "thwarted the democratic process" and authorized the creation of a medical institute that would conduct embryonic stem-cell research.

This action makes Illinois the fourth state in the nation-after California, Connecticut and New Jersey-to establish a stem-cell research facility, but it’s the first to do so without input from the public, reported the Catholic Explorer.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich superseded the General Assembly July 12 by initiating an executive order to create the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute, which would conduct research involving all forms of stem cells, including from adults, umbilical cord blood and embryos. The institute is expected to open by December.

Taxpayers were told at a Chicago press conference that $10 million of public funds would be invested as a start-up cost for the institute. Details about ongoing funding, fiscal accountability and research methodology have not yet been disclosed.

Blagojevich reportedly justified his actions, saying: "Since the federal government has chosen to stall the medical advancements that will come with stem cell research, it is up to the states to take action."

"We feel in many ways that [the governor] betrayed his office" by superseding the process of the General Assembly, Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, told the Catholic Explorer.

The governor’s executive order has "signaled his disregard for the deeply-held beliefs of millions of Illinois citizens" and "thwarted the democratic process," said Gilligan.

Gilligan believes it would have been more fiscally prudent to invest money into adult stem-cell research, which has a proven record of success unlike embryonic stem-cell research.

Michelene Bajaklan, attorney for the Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the archdiocese is working with Catholic Conference of Illinois to see if there are legal grounds to challenge the order.

She pointed out that the issue of establishing an institute was debated in the spring, but it never came up for a vote.

In April, the Catholic bishops of Illinois issued a joint letter to lawmakers, indicating their disagreement with a proposal to establish a research facility that would include embryonic stem-cell research.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholoczyk, director of education for the national Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, has frequently addressed the issue from the Catholic point of view, noting that Church teaching prohibits research that makes use of embryonic stem cells. The process of harvesting of these cells kills the embryo.

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