Missouri Baptists seek to rise above stem cell confusion
By Allen Palmeri
December 22, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Cindy Province and Kerry Messer are pro-life lobbyists in the state Capitol who have been struggling, by sheer lack of resources, to educate lawmakers on the issue of embryonic stem cell research the last three years. The drill goes something like this:
1) Pro-life lobbyist explains what embryonic stem cell research is.
2) Biotech lobbyist provides a different definition.
3) Lawmaker gets confused.
Province, a member of First Baptist Church, Harvester, the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board and associate director of The Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) in St. Louis, said that biotech companies have “armies of lobbyists.” Messer, who lobbies for the MBC’s Christian Life Commission (CLC), is president of the Missouri Family Network and is a member of First Baptist Church, Festus-Crystal City, said it is obvious that these people are effective when they take lawmakers out to dinner or play golf with them.
“I don’t know if I’d say there are armies of them, but they do overwhelm us in numbers,” Messer said.
Any way you look at it, a mighty tug-of-war is taking place in Missouri right now over the issue as the Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate begin to get acquainted with a governor-elect who is clearly pro-life while also listening to GOP business interests.
Province, who has been a lobbyist for homeschoolers for years and has been directing educational efforts for lawmakers with the CBC, and Messer stand with state Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit and a deacon at First Baptist Church, Raytown. Bartle is entering his fourth year in the General Assembly trying to muster support for his bill banning embryonic stem cell research, a procedure that evangelical Christians and pro-life Roman Catholics call human cloning. Meanwhile, the biotech lobbyists continue to exert their considerable influence among pro-business Republicans with language that is crafted to suggest that embryonic stem cells really aren’t derived from human embryos and that allowing companies who do such research to enter Missouri will provide jobs and boost the state’s economy.
The well-heeled biotech lobbyists are prevailing in that many lawmakers remain fuzzy on the issue, Province said.
“They really have a vested interest in making people confused,” she said. “What I tell folks is, ‘They don’t want you to understand it. They just want you to pay for it.’ I think that really boils it down to its essence. The more confused people are, particularly pro-life people, the better off they (the biotech industry leaders) are.”
Cutting through the confusion
On Oct. 8, the seven leading pro-life organizations in Missouri came together at Peace Lutheran Church, St. Louis, for a stem cell research summit sponsored by the CBC. Represented that day were Missouri Family Network, Missouri Right to Life, Concerned Women for America, Lutherans for Life, Missouri Eagle Forum, American Family Association and the MBC’s CLC.
Province served as hostess for the event as experts, including a professor and an attorney, addressed the question, “Should Missouri allow creation and destruction of human embryos for research?” Thus theological, medical and legal perspectives were presented in a setting where education was the primary goal.
“Quite frankly, I still have a ways to go in terms of my knowledge of that whole issue so I can convince my other legislators who are kind of on the fence,” said Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, a pro-life Roman Catholic. “The seminar was extremely beneficial.”
Gov.-elect Matt Blunt sent a representative to the summit, Province said, and at one point he seemed to grasp that there was more to this issue than his boss had been told. A month later, an Associated Press article appeared with this sentence: “During the campaign, Republican Matt Blunt said he opposes stem cell research that uses fertilized eggs, but supports somatic cell nuclear transfer research, also known as therapeutic cloning.” Province said that sentence is a classic example of disinformation.
“If that’s true, then he is both for and against (destroying human embryos), and that, of course, can’t be true,” Province said. “What this illustrates, once again, is the confusion that exists around this issue.
“Somatic cell nuclear transfer is cloning. It does produce a human embryo. So to say, ‘I’m for it because all it produces is this unfertilized egg’ is biological nonsense, because it does produce a human embryo with 46 chromosomes.”
Messer said the biotech lobbyists typically will argue that when you create a human embryo, which they label “therapeutic cloning,” and never intend to have it wind up inside a mother’s womb, eliminating that embryo is morally permissible. Purists like Messer, Province and Bartle respond by calling that process killing.
When you create an independent human life, you do not have the right to take it, Messer said. Only God does.
“You destroy that living being,” the senator said. “I think it’s just plain wrong.”
Can Bartle build consensus?
Bartle has been virtually alone in the Senate in his opposition to embryonic stem cell research and has been targeted for defeat in 2006 by a life sciences lobby that would prefer a more business-friendly politician occupying his Senate seat. He said that there will be a more coordinated effort to work the bill in 2005, thanks to several co-sponsors.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of people step up this time,” he said.
Messer said that Kennedy, who is willing to talk about the need for a ban, is representative of politicians who may be warming to the bill.
“Anytime we can get bipartisan support on a major issue from leaders of both parties it demonstrates that the issue itself is not a wedge issue and is clearly a broad-based issue where people understand the necessity of it,” Messer said.
Kennedy has made progress in that he is able to explain the difference between adult stem cells (which Southern Baptists approve of using) and embryonic stem cells.
Adult stem cells can be obtained from placentas, umbilical cords, bone marrow, human fat and organs. Embryonic stem cells are derived from just that—embryos. A stem cell has the ability to develop into any of the nearly 220 types of cells in the human body. Senators like Kennedy and Bartle have no moral objection to this type of research as long as it comes out of the abundant supply of adult stem cells, which have already produced more than 40 treatments, including the repair of damaged livers and remedies for heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries, Baptist Press reported.
“There are plenty of areas that don’t affect the embryonic stem cell area that Missouri could explore in terms of the biotech field that would give Missouri plenty of revenue for the economic engine,” Kennedy said.
On the other hand, embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals, Baptist Press reported.
“Clearly science is inconclusive in terms of the benefit of it, and in terms of the ethical issues, it presents a real moral dilemma for me,” Kennedy said. “There’s a lot of hoopla but not a lot of factual data to get behind it and say that this is something that will benefit humanity. You’re messing with Mother Nature, and I don’t think that’s a good idea.
“We need to still stick to our principles and work with those research institutions to come up with good alternatives that don’t involve human cloning/embryonic stem cell research.”
Or, as Bartle said, the senators who are in favor of a ban on human cloning need to keep on stating that they are not against science.
“We’re not talking about banning stem cell research,” Bartle said.
Outlawing embryonic stem cell research would put Missouri in a group of states that includes Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. Michigan in particular has “thriving biotech industries,” Province said. Missouri can become the sixth state to ban human cloning, treating it as a felony, if lawmakers remain open to the truth, she said.
“I think that if legislators understood this issue, this would fly through,” Province said. “We have pro-life majorities in both houses that go across party lines. It’s simply a matter of this very frustrating confusion that’s permeated this whole issue throughout the last several years that these bills have been proposed. Once we break through that, I am convinced that we will be on that list of states.”