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Illinois sanctions stem cell research

Illinois is one step away from research on embryonic stem cells, a practice that offers hope of medical breakthroughs but also raises ethical questions.

The Illinois House voted 70-44 Thursday to endorse the research and set up an institute to award grants to scientists. The measure now goes to Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, who supports stem cell research.

A number of U.S. states have approved funding for stem cell research, including embryonic stem cells, following federal restrictions on the research.

The U.S. Congress intends to send President George W. Bush legislation next week to ease restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. In threatening a veto again this year, Bush said it "crossed a moral line that I and many others find troubling."

Supporters say stem cells hold the promise of treating or curing many diseases because the cells - created in the first days after conception - form all organs and tissues in the body. Opponents note embryos, primarily unused embryos from fertility clinics, must be destroyed to obtain the embryonic stem cells and compare the procedure to abortion.

Blagojevich has used his executive powers to provide $15 million in such grants over the past two years without approval from lawmakers. The new legislation would make the grants part of state law.

The measure would ban cloning for the purpose of creating a new human being - a process known as "reproductive cloning." But it would allow "therapeutic cloning" to create a batch of cells for research purposes.