Cloning initiative to be debated in court Jan. 19
By Allen Palmeri
January 10, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – David C. LaPlante, lead counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund in a court case challenging the language of a proposed ballot initiative to protect cloning research that could come before Missouri voters this year, is confident his expert witnesses will perform well Jan. 19 before Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder. That is the day Kinder could decide whether the language in the proposed ballot initiative is acceptable or not.
The Kansas City Star , which has argued in a series of editorials for the ballot initiative permitting destructive embryonic stem cell research in Missouri, encouraged the judge Dec. 18 to “do the state a service” by limiting testimony and deciding the case swiftly. LaPlante said the experts on his side of the case are scientifically competent and far from intimidated by secular journalists who accuse them of being deceptive. The Star editorial writers have complained about “legal nitpicking,” but LaPlante said the plaintiffs just want the facts to be aired.
“Frankly, we win on the science,” LaPlante said. “The majority position in the scientific community is that somatic cell nuclear transfer is human cloning. The product of somatic cell nuclear transfer is a human embryo.”
Also counted among supporters of the lawsuit are the Missouri Baptist Convention and the state’s six Catholic bishops. They too, are capable of producing their own scientific experts on the issue if needed.
At stake in the debate is the survival of the Missouri clone-to-kill initiative that, if approved by voters, would amend the Missouri Constitution and prevent a ban on therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Calling the language “deceptive,” Southern Baptists, Catholics and other plaintiffs such as Missourians Against Human Cloning are asking Kinder to order Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to write a new ballot title and summary.
Supporters of the ballot initiative, which include leaders in Missouri’s academic, political and business sectors, have at least $15 million to spend in what has become a winner-take-all battle. They continue to proclaim that they have a 2-to-1 advantage in polls taken on the issue, implying that their initiative would easily prevail in a Missouri election. Opponents doubt the validity of the polls and have countered by shifting the focus to the courtroom.
Pounding home their message of “hope” through relentless television and radio advertising that often use the disabled to deliver their message, proponents of the initiative are now faced with a new challenge. The scientific community was rocked recently by news that the world’s foremost scientist on embryonic stem cell research (or SCNT) Hwang Woo suk is a liar and a fraud.
Meanwhile, the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which is the group spearheading the clone-to-kill ballot initiative, carries on its fight. The organization has eight board members. Three have ties to Washington University—William Danforth, chancellor emeritus and chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Pamela Lokken, director of community and government relations for the university; and Rose Windmiller, director of state relations and local government affairs for the university. In addition, Danforth’s brother, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, has become a very familiar face in Missouri’s living rooms as the leading spokesman in their advertising campaign.
Some Washington University administration, staff and faculty are trying to project the institution as being pro-embryonic stem cell research in the current campaign. For example, in a Dec. 15 article in the People’s Weekly World Newspaper by David Kennell, professor emeritus of molecular microbiology at the Washington University’s School of Medicine, writes that scientists on the other side of the debate have an “absurd definition of humanhood” that is “based on religious dogma rather than a concern for human life.”
But contrary to that impression, there is disagreement over the issue at Washington University. Dr. Richard Chole, Lindburg Professor and Department Chairman, Department of Otolaryngology, School of Medicine, is very much on the other side of the debate. And Chole is one Washington University scientist, at least, who is bold enough to make his opinion known.
“It makes the university appear to have two voices, but I am not speaking for the university,” Chole said.
“I’m proud to be a faculty member of Washington University, and I respect my colleagues here very greatly, but I have a different view. That view is really the opposite of what you might call the official view at Washington University, but there are many of us here who share my view. We have academic freedom, and in that academic freedom we have freedom to state our positions even though they may be unpopular. The university is a place where we can express these thoughts. That’s what universities are all about, I think—allowing this kind of diversity of expression.”
Chole, who is serving as spokesman for Missourians Against Human Cloning, was asked to describe the process of SCNT. Scientifically, this process has been described as something that involves the cloning of an embryo solely for the purpose of harvesting its stem cells. It and its relative, reproductive cloning, differ only in the final result. In reproductive cloning, the embryo is implanted in a woman’s uterus. In therapeutic cloning, it is destroyed.
“SCNT creates a cloned embryo in the form of a zygote,” Chole said. “That’s the technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep and has now cloned a number of other animals. At that moment when the zygote is formed, the process of development of that life begins.”
Chole speaks as a typical plaintiff in the court case when he emphatically declares that the Missouri embryo kill initiative is deceptive.
“The initiative on one hand states that it prohibits human cloning, when in fact we feel that it does exactly the opposite,” he said. “It permits human cloning but requires that the cloned embryo be destroyed before it’s implanted in a uterus.
“I believe that most of the citizens in the state of Missouri, if they really understood what was happening with cloning human embryos, would stand with us and be against taking this step into human embryo farming,” he said. “I think people are confused by this issue because our opposition is attempting to change terms that cause confusion among the public. I personally feel there is great and very broad support for protecting human life, even at its earliest stages. Just because an embryo is small doesn’t mean it’s less human.”
The Jan. 19 hearing is set for 9:30 a.m.