Missourians are on the precipice of a titanic moral battle
June 14, 2005
It is the greatest moral issue facing Missourians since the state ratified the 13th and 14th Amendments abolishing slavery.
Embryonic stem cell research (including cloning) is as explosive an issue that has ever beset Missouri citizens, triggering an inevitable showdown that pits high-powered business interests and university researchers, who see embryonic stem cell research as a “pot of gold,” against social conservatives, who view it as the most diabolical evil of this young millennium. The issue threatens to split Republicans and Democrats alike, jeopardizing political careers and impacting the 2006 elections in a way few thought possible just a year ago.
Forcing this issue upon the state’s citizenry are the Kansas City-based Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Washington University in St. Louis and a virtual who’s who in the St. Louis and Kansas City business communities. They want to have the freedom to harvest embryonic stem cells, which they believe could lead to a cure for a host of maladies. They also see dollar signs, although it is far from certain just how profitable embryonic stem cells will be.
Standing in their way are social conservatives led by every pro-life organization in the state, from Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Catholic Conference to Concerned Women for America and the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), all of whom see the destruction of embryos as the killing of innocent life. They say (and they have science to back it up) the only thing that separates an embryo from being a fully grown human being is time. They also point out that it will devalue human life, lives conceived, used and destroyed with no freedom to choose their own fate.
In between these opponents are Gov. Matt Blunt and a bitterly divided Missouri General Assembly. The governor is clearly pro-life, except that he favors a technical form of embryonic stem cell research known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Blunt says SCNT does not require the destruction of human life because there is no sperm involved. He has yet to answer pro-life groups who have noted that Dolly the sheep was cloned by British scientists without the use of sperm. The issue has prompted a heated dispute between Missouri Right to Life, the Catholic Conference and the governor after he reportedly ordered a provision stricken from a major anti-abortion bill set for passage at the end of the most recent legislative session. That provision could have had potentially negative implications for embryonic stem cell proponents.
Missouri Right to Life (see column on page 6) and the Catholic Conference felt particularly betrayed and proclaimed that Blunt is not pro-life. That prompted sharp responses from Republican leaders defending the governor. For example, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, took the extraordinary action of calling for the ouster of Catholic Conference Executive Director Larry Weber (so much for separation of church and state). Other angry Republican leaders expressed outrage at Missouri Right to Life and the Catholic Conference. While Democrats have been less vocal, they are hopelessly divided over the issue as well with the 27-member Democrats For Life Caucus leading its party’s charge against embryonic stem cell research.
So what is next?
Some state Capitol observers think the pro-embryonic stem cell groups will try to force the General Assembly early next year to pass a law protecting their highly speculative and dangerous research. Of course they will be met in full force by pro-life groups. The result will likely be a political stalemate, prompting the pro-embryonic stem cell groups to petition citizens to amend the state’s constitution. It could be placed on the August or November ballot.
The staggering amount of money the pro-embryonic stem cell groups have to spend on such a campaign (they have already been editorially endorsed by the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) is exceeded only by their arrogance and mean-spiritedness. They are already using inflammatory rhetoric to describe pro-life groups like Missouri Baptists (which passed a resolution in 2004 calling for a prohibition of embryonic stem cell research in the state). St. Louis businessman Sam Fox, a major contributor to Republican candidates and a supporter of embryonic stem cell research, referred to opponents in a St. Louis newspaper as “religious zealots.” A recent St. Louis Business Journal editorial alluded to the Scopes Monkey Trial and the so-called anti-scientific views of conservative Christians. One can bet that the number of newspaper, radio and television advertisements proclaiming that the crippled will walk because of embryonic stem cells (a cruel claim without an ounce of truth) will soar to unprecedented heights.
Bring it on. A ballot initiative is the best way to solve this issue. It will take the politics out of the equation and put the decision in the hands of Missouri citizens. Missouri Baptists need to get educated and begin praying that God will give us victory in the struggle to come.