Jumping the gun on stem cells in Missouri

Posted: Sep 08, 2006 7:41 AM

"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried." - Winston Churchill

Nowhere are the warts of democracy more apparent than during the campaigning process on a citizen initiative and referendum. In 27 states, citizens and lobbying groups can put proposed constitutional amendments up for a vote by the public. But in an era of sound bites, negative ads, and outright deception, the debate over something as complicated as a constitutional amendment doesn’t lend itself well to being decided with a single up or down vote by a drive-by voting public.

This is being demonstrated very clearly in Missouri, where a deceptive campaign is being waged to pass a constitutional amendment that would promote false hope for the suffering and create human life in order to destroy it.

In November, the citizens of Missouri will be asked if their state constitution “[should] be amended to allow and set limitations on stem cell research, therapies, and cures….”

Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Most Americans would probably think so too and may vote yes if they don’t keep reading. If they did, the amendment gets a tad murkier.

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to allow and set limitations on stem cell research, therapies, and cures which will:

• ensure Missouri patients have access to any therapies and cures, and allow Missouri researchers to conduct any research, permitted under federal law;
• ban human cloning or attempted cloning;
• require expert medical and public oversight and annual reports on the nature and purpose of stem cell research;
• impose criminal and civil penalties for any violations; and
• prohibit state or local governments from preventing or discouraging lawful stem cell research, therapies and cures?"

I’m confused. Does this constitutional amendment limit stem cell research or encourage it? Unfortunately, the language above is all the voter gets. The actual legalese of the amendment is tucked away and is the ultimate in “fine print.” It’s no surprise there is a great deal of confusion in Missouri over this amendment.

Opponents of “Amendment 2” correctly point out several deceptions in the language that would raise concerns if the measure were to pass.

The amendment protects a process called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), the same procedure that resulted in the cloned sheep, “Dolly.” Cloning by any other name is still cloning. How proponents can call this amendment a “ban on human cloning” is shocking considering that SCNT is the scientific breakthrough that began the race to clone animals and humans.

The amendment would “prohibit state or local governments from preventing or discouraging lawful stem cell research, therapies and cures.” Does this mean the state legislature is prohibited from refusing to fund certain types of stem cell research?

Contrary to what we hear on the nightly news, stem cells pulled from embryos that were later destroyed have not produced significant research successes. In comparison, the much less controversial adult stem cells have produced medical breakthrough after breakthrough. Stem cells from umbilical cord blood, placenta, bone marrow and other sources have been proven very successful in treating dozens of diseases.

It’s ironic given all the controversy over embryonic stem cells that they simply haven’t lived up to any of the hype. Children with leukemia and diabetes have been led to believe that simply allowing government funding of embryonic stem-cell research would bring about a cure to every disease known to man. It’s a tragedy that this atmosphere of false hope has been created in order to serve the political designs of a few when most Missourians and Americans believe that life shouldn’t be created just to be used up and discarded.

The issue of stem cell research is a complicated one full of emotion, myths, and misrepresentations, and there is no need to move quickly to amend the Missouri constitution. Cloning is already illegal at the federal level and private companies are free to engage in any type of stem-cell research, whether right or wrong. Missouri should say no to Amendment 2.vThe people of Missouri would be well-served to reconsider whether they support this proposed constitutional amendment. If not, we may all wake up some day in a brave new world.

For more information on Missouri’s Amendment 2, visit http://www.nocloning.org/.