Misleading measure may launch U.S. cloning

Robert Novak
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Posted: Oct 16, 2006 1:50 PM
Misleading measure may launch U.S. cloning

A new video available on YouTube marks a late attempt by pro-life forces to avert serious defeat in Missouri Nov. 7, with national implications. Cathy Ruse, speaking for Missourians Against Human Cloning, declares: "Amendment 2 is a fraud. It is an attempt to trick Missourians into approving -- in their Constitution -- human cloning, the right of biotech firms to do human cloning in Missouri -- something Missourians oppose by an overwhelming majority." But Amendment 2 is identified for many Missouri voters by the language at the beginning of the five-page, 2,000-word ballot initiative: "No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being." That explains why polls have shown a substantial margin of support for the constitutional amendment, also backed by key Republican politicians and business interests. It seems to offer the best of all worlds: government support of stem cell research without fear of cloning.

The problem is that the proposal so narrowly defines cloning as to open the door in Missouri to any cloning procedure that takes place outside the womb. If this is approved by a state that historically is a barometer of national trends and is considered a pro-life stronghold, it will be a national model for breaking popular resistance to what the scientists and biotech companies want.

A campaign costing an estimated $20 million has helped build a substantial lead for the amendment. A September poll by the Republican firm McLaughlin & Associates shows a 59 percent to 31 percent advantage. Democrats appear to have no doubt, favoring it 75 to 22, with only 3 percent undecided. But Republicans are split, 40 percent in support and 45 against, with 15 percent undecided.

Big Republican names -- former Sen. John Danforth, Gov. Matt Blunt and party contributor Sam Fox -- support the amendment. The $2 billion-endowed Stowers Institute in Kansas City, funded by GOP benefactors, spearheads the campaign.

That establishment Republican support for Amendment 2 has created a difficult situation for first-term GOP Sen. Jim Talent, engaged in a difficult re-election campaign. I reported Talent's "defection from the anti-cloning ranks" in February when he took his name off a Senate bill to ban cloning on grounds it might hamper acceptable scientific research.

Talent at that time was taking no position on Amendment 2, but he has since come out against it. In a recent debate with the Democratic Senate candidate, state Auditor Claire McCaskill, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Talent said the proposal "would create ... an unqualified constitutional right to clone the earliest stages of human life. " But he hastened to add he is not against stem cell research.

McCaskill sought to cast the debate in terms of whether the candidates are for or against the medical miracles that can be achieved through stem cell research. She proclaimed "I come down on the side of hope, hope of cures and supporting science." But she put this in the framework of the constitutional amendment that, she said, "strictly prohibits human cloning."

This confrontation on what is in the ballot proposition is enough to confuse voters. Amendment 2 bans only cloning that involves planting an embryo within the womb. It specifically prohibits government from interfering with somatic cell nuclear transfer, which involves replacing the nucleus of a human egg outside the womb -- the cloning procedure used to produce Dolly the sheep.

Unequivocally, the proposal tries to keep politicians from interfering with its approved cloning process: "[N]o state or local government body or official shall eliminate, reduce, deny or withhold any public funds provided or eligible to be provided to a person that lawfully conducts stem cell research or provides stem cell therapies and cures."

This language, contends the YouTube video, "provides biotech firms a blank check for taxpayer dollars to support unethical and unproven research that Missourians oppose." If government-approved cloning can be sold to the barometer pro-life state of Missouri, it will show up next in other states with major research facilities.