Standing firm in face of a pagan onslaught
By Allen Palmeri
July 20, 2004
State senator: ‘No’ to cloning, even if it means losing his job
JEFFERSON CITY – A state senator from Lee’s Summit who opposes the use of human embryos for stem cell research has become the target of Missouri’s increasingly powerful life sciences lobby that continues to push for such unfettered research at places like Washington University in St. Louis and The Stowers Institute in Kansas City.
Republican Sen. Matt Bartle, a deacon at First Baptist Church, Raytown, was portrayed in a May 7 article in the Kansas City Business Journal as a one-man obstacle to “the most influential business, education and economic development groups in the state.” The article concluded that because the senator calls somatic nuclear cell transfer “human cloning” based on his religious beliefs, he is “impossible to negotiate with” and is destined to be opposed by a more business-friendly candidate when he comes up for re-election in 2006.
Ironically, Bartle said he prayed that God would spare him this fight.
“We understood early on that this was going to be a battle that was not in my political best interest,” Bartle said. “I have prayed about it and asked the Lord to allow me to avoid this, and the answer’s been, ‘No.’ This is a battle for me to take up.”
At the core of the battle is a conflict over words.
The “science without boundaries” lobby seeks to define biotechnology as a therapeutic method to provide treatments for cancer, damaged spinal cords or Alzheimer’s disease. They see nothing wrong with creating human life and destroying it if cures are the result of the process. An April 28 letter from 206 congressional members to President Bush called for legalized research on human embryos. More recently, Nancy Reagan, widow of former President Ronald Reagan, in expressing views that her late husband would have opposed, has also called for the use of human embryos in stem cell research.
The leader of congressional group, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said the president’s policy banning human cloning (which is the Bartle position as well) has hindered the progress of research and has had “a chilling effect on science.” This is the Missouri life sciences position.
Bartle stands against that crowd. He laid out the essence of what Missourians need to know in a definition he finds trustworthy.
“They are taking the nucleus out of a human female’s egg cell and they are sticking a nucleus from somebody else’s cell, a somatic cell, into the egg,” Bartle said. “Then they zap it with electric current and it causes a cell division to begin—the same sort of cell division that would take place if a sperm met the egg. So what you have is a human embryo. It has a father and a mother who are the parents of this new creation. It has 46 chromosomes.
“They then go in and take the stem cells out of the human embryo, which kills the human embryo. It’s called human cloning.”
The “science without boundaries” crowd rejects the term “human cloning.” They prefer “therapeutic cloning,” or “regeneration.” Bartle shed light on how the secular biotechnology lobby is communicating.
“They are really working desperately to change the words that are used here,” he said. “They don’t want to use cloning anymore. They just want to use the name of the procedure—somatic nuclear cell transfer. They don’t want to call it embryonic stem cell, either, because that points to the very reality that it’s a human embryo. And they’ve cast me as a religious zealot.
“Anytime anyone stands on principle, they believe it is a result of religious extremism. It’s sad that that’s where our society has gone now. What they want to say is basically no non-religious person would ever hold this view. They think if they can cast it as a religious view, that somehow by definition it’s not reasonable.”
Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton and minister of education, students and missions for First Baptist Church, Belton, is willing to stand with Bartle as a so-called religious fanatic on this issue.
“I just don’t think that blood money from conceived life is the way to build our economy,” Baker said. “There are other ways to do this. It’s very political, and if money is what drives everybody, then I think that we’ve chosen our God and they’ve chosen theirs.
“I think Jeremiah 1 is very clear: I knew you before you were formed in the womb, and therefore you have life. It is to be treated with respect, and to kill a life or to create life and to destroy it for the benefit of another life is abortion. It’s murder, and it’s wrong.”
Bartle, Baker and Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Mehlville, all note that they favor ethical research laws and are not, as opponents charge, “anti-research” or somehow against biotechnology.
“We will continue to support research that has its moral foundation in the Hippocratic Oath,” said Lembke, a senior elder in the Reformed Episcopalian church who is also calling for a comprehensive ban on cloning.
Lembke noted that even experts at Washington University differ on what is acceptable. One may favor “science without boundaries” while another may favor a more limited approach. Bartle points out that five states – Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota – have banned human cloning, and “Michigan tends to be a more progressive state.” Missouri ought to seriously consider joining this group, the senator said.
“Many are inclined toward our view but are frightened by taking on such powerful interests,” Bartle said.
For example, The Stowers Institute in Kansas City has said it will halt plans to build a second campus in Missouri if a ban on all human embryo research is passed. Bartle said he is undeterred.
“I think and I hope that the people of the state of Missouri would expect of those that they elect not to be intimidated by threats,” he said. “I’ve always believed that one of the keys to being a good legislator is not clinging too dearly to this position. I’ve found that if you come down to Jeff City and with every decision you make you evaluate whether this will either promote or hurt you in the next election, you’re not going to be very effective. I’ve determined whether I have a long political life or a short one, I have to do what I think is the right thing.
“There are a lot of other things I want to do with my life, and if this is the end of the road for me, then I’ll just go do something else, but I’m not going to back away from the fight because somebody threatens to take away my job.”
Why has Bartle taken on this fight? The answer is really quite simple.
“This is the new frontier for the pro-life movement,” he said.