Missouri ’s cloning movement gets a ‘black eye’
December 13, 2005
In recent days the credibility of the clone-to-kill movement in Missouri has disintegrated.
How could this happen when you are bankrolled with a seemingly infinite amount of money to spend on advertising to convince Missourians that embryonic stem cell research, or cloning, is worthy of constitutional protection in their state? Why, on top of that, after you muster a lineup of a virtual who’s who of the Missouri business, academia and political worlds to guide the effort and voice your message to an adoring news media and it still collapses? Bungled public statements and a deceptive petition that will never fully convince Missourians that cloning is right and worthy of constitutional protection are, in my view, the answers. Both have already led to a loss of credibility and without that, in the “Show Me” state, you’re dead meat.
Leading the battle to put cloning in the Missouri Constitution is the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures which is charged with getting the necessary 150,000 signatures on a petition to get the issue on next year’s ballot. Counted among its backers are former U.S. Senators John Danforth and Thomas Eagleton, Craig Schnuck, chief executive officer of Schnuck Markets; Steven Lipstein, president and chief executive officer of BJC Healthcare and Sam Fox, a St. Louis philanthropist, who has chaired Washington University’s $1.3 billion capital campaign since its inception in 1998 and is a significant contributor to Republican candidates. Washington University in St. Louis supports cloning and is a key entity in the debate.
They are joined by a large number of faculty, researchers and administrators at Washington University and by Kansas City business magnate Jim Stowers. Stowers earned his wealth as founder of American Century Investments. It is Stowers who created the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, a state-of-the-art facility consisting of laboratories, offices, conference halls and luxury hotel suites that is powered by a $2 billion endowment. The Stowers Institute, like Washington University, wants constitutional protection for cloning and they also think they can make big bucks if they can pull it off by securing patents on any potential treatments.
If they are successful on getting the issue on the ballot and then winning in next year’s election, Missouri will become the first state to write into its state constitution legal protection for cloning. “Oh,” they say, “but it’s not cloning, it is embryonic stem cell research,” or “somatic cell nuclear transfer” or some-other-something-or-other. But that argument will be countered by pro-life groups, like Missourians Against Human Cloning, which will respond with equally dynamic intellectual and scientific firepower. (If you have never heard of Dr. Richard A. Chole, you will soon. He is the Lindburg Professor and Department Chairman, Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He is also president of the American Otological Society and director of the American Board of Otolaryngology. He also opposes the cloning movement in this state.)
The cloning movement also argues that banning cloning will hurt the state’s economy and give it a “black eye” in the scientific community. This is pure hogwash. Missouri’s economy is booming and it’s being driven largely by high-tech expansions in the state’s automotive sector. Every major company in America knows that Missouri has a pro-business governor, a pro-business General Assembly and workforce second to none.
No doubt about it, the cloning movement has the money and secular media supporting its effort, but when the smoke clears only the pro-lifers will emerge with their credibility intact. For in the end, all that need happen for the cloning movement to lose is for just a centimeter of doubt to arise in the minds of Missouri voters.
The seeds for failure were sown months ago when a bitter-sounding Fox referred to socially conservative Christians in Missouri as a bunch of “zealots.” Then, William Neaves, president and chief executive officer of Stowers, told reporters and editors with the Columbia Daily Tribune in November that opposition to cloning research is grounded in religious beliefs. (He obviously has never talked to Dr. Richard A. Chole.) Then, at yet another obvious swipe at socially conservative Christians, Neaves said other people of faith have concluded that “those cells in a Petri dish” are not a life. However, he admitted earlier to the editorial board of the Springfield News-Leader that “those cells in a Petri dish” are alive. Yet, he wants to kill them because the end justifies the means. If that were not enough, Danforth decided it was time for him to join the “fun” and take his poke at socially conservative Christians, which he defines as “the religious right.” Danforth said such conservatives hurt the Republican Party. I wonder if Senators Kit Bond and Jim Talent and Gov. Matt Blunt agree with Danforth? I don’t so. It is hard to imagine any of them winning office without the support of socially conservative Christians – especially Talent and Blunt who won by razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004, respectively.
All this demeaning rhetoric against socially conservative Christians in Missouri is not the way to win over undecided voters. If you can’t win a debate over an issue by accurately touting its merits, “going negative” against Christians is not a good alternative strategy. You come across looking petty, if not downright mean. The only way the cloning movement can win this battle is if its opponents fail to educate the masses.
But more importantly than all this, are two developments in recent days that have waylaid the cloning movement, causing significant damage to its credibility. The first was like a nuclear bomb and the second was like the ensuing radioactivity that follows such a catastrophe. And they both happened just as the cloning movement began smothering Missourians with television and newspaper advertisements.
The nuke was dropped on the Missouri cloning movement when it was learned Nov. 25 that South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk, recognized as the world’s leading embryonic stem cell researcher, admitted that he lied about research procedures and violated international ethical standards. He resigned in disgrace as head of the World Stem Cell Hub, which was set up in October as an international collaboration based in South Korea, to supply labs worldwide with cloned embryonic stem cells. Hwang and his co-workers in 2004 gained notoriety when they became the first to grow human embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos. Since then he had become a national hero and a darling of the international scientific community.
Hwang’s embarrassing confession and resignation prompted other actions by world renown cloning researchers. Gerald P. Schatten, a leading embryonic stem cell researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, said he would no longer work with the South Koreans. The Pacific Fertility Center, an in-vitro fertilization clinic in San Francisco, said it would do likewise following the Hwang revelations.
Why is Hwang important to the Missouri clone movement? The reason the cloning movement wants the issue put before voters, supposedly, is to protect a certain type of cloning called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Hwang’s demise is a setback to them because like Hwang, they are interested in creating “disease specific” lines of stem cells, which involves insertion of DNA from patients into human eggs whose own DNA is first removed, a cloning technique known as – you guessed it – SCNT.
Schatten said one of his biggest concerns about the Hwang scandal had to do with the apparent participation as egg donors of female researchers with Hwang’s laboratory group. That is not allowed in mainstream labs throughout the world because of the potential for coercion. Another problem is health-related. Bioethicists are questioning the Hwang lab’s apparent failure to disclose some long-term health risks of egg extraction. Harvesting eggs, also known as oocytes, from humans requires an invasive procedure and the use of potent hormones to stimulate the ovaries. Some donors in other cases have died from egg extraction as part of in-vitro fertilization procedures.
If Hwang was the nuke, then the recent lawsuit filed by Missourians Against Legalized Cloning is the inevitable deadly radioactivity. First, while the cloning movement was doling out millions of dollars in paid advertising, the lawsuit garnered statewide media attention that was virtually free. Second, and more importantly, the lawsuit exposes the deceptive language in the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures’ petition.
“If the people of Missouri are going to vote on this issue, they should at least be given a fair chance to vote their conscience on matters of life and death,” said David LaPlante, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court. “The voters deserve to know that the proposed ballot initiative would create a constitutional right to treat human life as a commodity and raw material for unethical human experimentation.”
How bad has it gotten for the cloning movement in Missouri? Well, in boxing it’s called a big, fat black eye.