Statewide petition drive launched for diabolical stem cell amendment
Conservative groups, including MBC gear-up to defeat it
By Allen Palmeri
October 18, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY– Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) leaders wasted little time in voicing opposition to the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures’ effort to get a state constitutional amendment on the November 2006 ballot that would halt state bans of embryonic stem cell research allowed under federal law.
The coalition, composed of well-greased business interests and academics, launched their effort Oct. 11 and immediately garnered the endorsement of Repubican Gov. Matt Blunt.
If passed, it would mark the first state measure nationwide that would give patients the right to have diseases or injuries treated with stem cell cures allowed by federal law. The SBC, MBC and other pro-life organizations point out that embryonic stem cell research has yet to produce even one cure. Proponents of the amendment claim that embryonic stem cells, which require the destruction of embryos – or life, can lead to cures for ailments such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and spinal cord injuries. Opponents say such research raises serious ethical issues and prefer researchers use adult stem cells, which do not require the destruction of the embryo. They note that adult stem cells hold far more promise for cures than do embryonic stem cells.
Even the New York Times reported recently that California, which hopes to spend $3 billion in taxpayer money on embryo research, is questioning its course of action. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a state agency, heard testimony from scientists who warned that many basic problems with human embryonic stem cells remain unsolved, a sign that no “therapeutic” use of the cells is likely for years, the Times reported. Few companies are in the cell therapy field and venture capitalists have shown little interest, according to those scientists quoted by the Times. As a result, several scientists are arguing that California pursue “quick gains” available through adult stem cell research, the Times reported.
Adult stem cell research is preferred by both the SBC and MBC. Word games are being played right now in Missouri over the terms “therapeutic cloning,” which is advocated under the proposed state constitutional amendment, and “reproductive cloning,” which is prohibited in the petition. Both sides in the debate claim to be against human cloning, but SBC/MBC leaders say opponents are playing with words, that in fact, therapeutic cloning is, in actuality, human cloning.
Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway, criticized the petition’s language, calling it “deceptive” in an Oct. 17 commentary aired throughout the state on the Bott Radio Network. Citing Ephesians 5:6, he warned Missouri Christians about being mislead and signing the petition. SBC and MBC leaders are advising Missouri Southern Baptists not to fall for the word games that are sure to be deployed in the months to come.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch predictably wasted no time in endorsing the initiative in an Oct. 13 editorial. Opponents (like the SBC/MBC) with “deeply held moral and religious beliefs concerning the beginning of human life … (are) confused,” about the issue, the paper said. Other ballot initiative supporters have referred to pro-life groups in Missouri as “zealots,” perhaps offering a glimpse at how bitter a fight lies ahead.
“The vast majority of Southern Baptists are against embryonic destructive stem cell research—with no word games,” said Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC.
Therefore, when the governor, a Southern Baptist, came out in favor of the state constitutional amendment Oct. 11, he took a position that runs contrary to the beliefs, principles and values of “the vast majority” of voters from within his own denomination, Land said.
Part of the governor’s reasoning is that a form of therapeutic stem cell research, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), does not destroy the embryo, is not cloning and is legal under federal law. But every pro-life organization in Missouri, including the MBC, Catholic Conference and Missouri Right to Life, maintain SCNT is a form of cloning.
“Standing for life means protecting human life at all stages of development,” said Rodney Albert, chairman, MBC Christian Life Commission. “This is what our governor doesn’t seem to understand.”
The governor’s decision to support the amendment initiative puts him at odds with pro-life politicians in his own party – including his father, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, now the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives. The governor’s endorsement, ironically, put him at odds with U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, who is on record defending the human embryo. Talent is running for re-election next year against State Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who agrees with the governor. Political observers are already speculating what impact the constitutional amendment will have – if it is on the ballot – on the 2006 elections.
Kerry Messer, MBC lobbyist, is skeptical of reports which say the ballot initiative language suggests that it will ban attempts to create a cloned child and that implanting cloned cells into a woman’s uterus or attempting to implant cloned cells would be a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“They put that in there to make it sound like they’re conservative,” Messer said.
The ballot initiative amendment is 1,995 words long. Messer called that “virtually a 2,000-word essay.” Thanks to an abundant supply of loaded language, attorneys and judges have plenty of wiggle room to work through the amendment like a baker would work through dough, he said. The result could be a loaf of bread that may include taxpayer funding for embryonic research, he said.
The petition requires 139,181 signatures before it can go on the November 2006 ballot. If those signatures are obtained and certified, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, will be charged with writing a proposed 100-word summary of the amendment that will go on the actual ballot. That summary, if it is not written in a just manner, may be challenged in court, according to Sam Lee, d