Judge rules cloning ballot initiative title
not deceptive; nine-month battle begins
By Allen Palmeri
January 24, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY– The academic, political, business and media juggernaut that is pushing a proposed ballot initiative to protect cloning research in Missouri got the ruling it wanted Jan. 19 from Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder when the ballot title language written by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was deemed “sufficient, fair, accurate and impartial.”
The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which is attempting to collect 145,000 signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot, immediately proclaimed through its spokesman that it would print more petitions now that Missourians Against Human Cloning, its opponent in the court battle, has been rebuffed and the language issue has been resolved. Signature gathering had been halted pending Kinder’s ruling.
Plaintiff attorneys, who represent the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), Bioethics Defense Fund and the Missouri Catholic Conference, are weighing an appeal. MBC Lead Counsel Michael Whitehead explained that judges typically give “great deference” to the Secretary of State in these cases, making an appeal unlikely.
Among those supporting the ballot initiative are the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City and a gaggle of influential backers with ties to Washington University in St. Louis and the state’s biotech industry. Editorial writers for the Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch have been consistent cheerleaders, as have many of the state’s top elected officials, including Gov. Matt Blunt, Attorney General Jay Nixon, Carnahan and State Auditor Claire McCaskill. More than 40,000 individuals and scores of patient advocacy groups are part of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the Star reported.
“This is The Big Business Protection Act for the state of Missouri,” Whitehead said. “We‘re trying to put into the Constitution protection for a particular business industry, and that will be unprecedented. And the persons they want to be protected from are the citizens of the state of Missouri, through their elected representatives. They want the Constitution to keep the people, through their state representatives, from speaking ever again in our state legislatures against this moral, ethical and scientific issue.”
The plaintiffs tried to show there are at least two types of cloning—therapeutic and reproductive—and that the ballot initiative, which includes the words “clone” and “cloning,” is deceptive because it lacks specificity.
Their first witness, Dr. Maureen Condic of the University of Utah School of Medicine, testified that there is a “cloning for biomedical research” process and a “cloning to produce a child” process. A witness for the defendants, Dr. Douglas Melton of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, then testified that the one term “cloning” is both sufficient and preferred in scientific circles, stating that he would only use Dr. Condic‘s phrases if he were talking to his mother.
“This initiative purports to ban human cloning,” Whitehead said. “The evidence was made pretty clear there is substantial dispute about whether it bans or protects some types of human cloning, but that will be for the people of Missouri to sort out.
“This initiative talks in the polling place to mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters … laymen, not Harvard scientists. So the words he would use to his mother are the words we ought to put on this ballot initiative.”
ADF Attorney David C. LaPlante said the case was “wrongly decided,” citing a section of the law that apparently, based on Judge Kinder’s ruling, “has no teeth” to shield Missouri citizens from deception.
“The ballot title purports to ban human cloning and it specifically authorizes it,” LaPlante said. “If that is not deception, what is?”
Even though Judge Kinder wound up affirming every word of Carnahan’s language, one of the plaintiffs in the case, MBC Executive Board member and nurse bio-ethicist Cindy Province, said the trial was beneficial. Condic played an important role in helping to educate Missouri’s citizens, Province said.
“I thought that she parsed the questions very carefully,” Province said. “Rather than giving broad-stroke answers that would be less accurate, she was extremely precise in her answers. The best thing she did was bring some precision to this process that has been characterized by such a great deal of inaccurate generalization.”
Kinder was led to ask Melton about the effectiveness of embryonic stem cell research. The judge asked Melton, “What diseases have we cured to date with cloning?” The co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute answered, “In terms of using human embryonic stem cells that has not been done.”
A South Korean scientist, Hwang Woo Suk, had been touted as the first researcher to create stem cells from cloned human embryos until his work was recently revealed to be fraudulent. The deception means that the field of embryonic stem cell research is years behind where scientists thought it was, the Washington Post reported Jan. 10. The technique for cloning human cells, which seemed to have been achieved since March 2004, now turns out not to exist at all, forcing cloning researchers back to square one, the New York Times reported Jan. 10.
It is not known whether the proposed amendment will be on the August or November ballot.