War of the Words
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War of the Words

Date: October 27, 2006
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The 100-word summary of Amendment 2 that will appear on the ballot Nov. 7 is a point of contention for both sides of the stem-cell debate in Missouri. 

According to Connie Farrow, spokeswoman for the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the initiative is a fair and representative summary of the actual text of the amendment , which she says strictly bans human cloning as well as the buying of human eggs for use in stem cell research and cures. 

But according to Dorinda Bordlee, Executive Director and creator of the Bioethics Defense fund, the "tricky legal wording" of the summary is deceptive and misleading to voters.  The summary says it outlaws human cloning and the buying and selling of human eggs, when in fact she argues it does not. 

Voters are caught in the middle of this confusing debate, faced with fundamentally contradictory claims.  So what is the truth?

The answer lies in the definition of "human cloning."

Explained by Dr. Mark Kirk, MU professor from the Division of Biological Sciences, somatic cell nuclear transfer, also known as SCNT, is a process in which a human egg, with the nucleus removed, has transferred into it the nucleus from another cell.

SCNT is allowed under Amendment 2.

What happens to the newly-nucleated cell is the point where the use of the phrase "human cloning" becomes confusing.

This process was performed in the cloning of the sheep Dollie.  However, after the nucleus transfer occurred, the egg was implanted in the uterus of the sheep which then birthed Dollie.  This process, called reproductive cloning, is banned under Amendment 2, according to Farrow.  

In stem-cell research, the stem cell in a petri dish is given a stimulus to begin dividing.  All divisions occur in the petri-dish, the cells are never implanted in a uterus.  This process, called cell cloning or therapeutic cloning, is allowed under Amendment 2.

Both processes are, in essence "human cloning" but in the case of stem cell research, human cells are "cloned" in a petri dish, a human being does not result, as many imagine when they hear the term.   

Bordlee says the summary is misleading because it does not clarify the very distinctive and important difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning.     

Opponents were so concerned about the 100-word summary that voters would be given on the ballot, they took the issue to court in January -- in a case they lost.

The Bioethics Defense Fund, a national public interest law firm that deals with litigation and legislation involving bioethics, argued the case for the Missourians Against Human Cloning, the most vocal stem-cell opponent.  The legal group, According to Bordlee is "adjunct to creating human life to destroy it."

Bordlee, along with her legal team, pushed to have added to the ballot summary, "bans reproductive cloning, allows therapeutic cloning."  The judge ruled against the Defense Fund's case, according to Farrow. 

Kirk says that the confusing debate is a result of misunderstandings by voters. 

"People don't understand the difference between human cloning and cellular cloning," Dr. Mark Kirk.  "You ask the average person on the street that is not a reproductive biologist and they are not going to understand the difference because when they hear cloning they think, 'oh, a new baby's coming.'  That's not what happens with cellular cloning, or therapeutic cloning.  At the end of therapeutic cloning, you wind up with a dish of cells, you don't wind up with a new person."   

A copy of the amendment proposal that would join the state constitution if Missourians vote to pass the initiative on Nov. 7 is available on the Missouri Secretary of State website at http://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2006ballot/default.asp#general 

Fair Ballot Language excerpt: (from the Missouri Secretary of State website). 

A "yes" vote will amend the Missouri Constitution 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 any 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.

A "no" vote would not ensure that stem cell research permitted under federal law is allowed to be conducted in Missouri and that Missouri patients have access to stem cell therapies and cures permitted under federal law.

This measure will have no impact on taxes.