November 29, 2023

Referendum on Massachusetts stem cell law scuppered

A proposed referendum to repeal a new law authorising embryonic stem cell research in the US state of Massachusetts has been dismissed by the state’s attorney-general. The law passed overwhelmingly earlier this year, overcoming a veto from Governor Mitt Romney.

Thomas F. Reilly’s argument is that a Massachusetts referendum can have nothing to do with religion. According to the state constitution and several court rulings, any law which relates even peripherally to religion cannot go before voters. His argument is not new: several state referendums have been knocked back in recent times for the same reason. However, the backer of the ballot initiative, Larry Cirignano, denies that it is a religious issue. “Just because we say ‘Thou shalt not kill embryos’, it is not a religious issue,” he has written. “It is a human rights issue, and debates about human rights are secular in nature.” Cirignano plans to appeal the attorney-general’s decision, even though he knows that he faces an uphill battle.