Judge rules cloning ballot initiative title ‘sufficient’
Missouri pro-life forces
to file an appeal with court
By Allen Palmeri
February 7, 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 approved 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 and renew signature collection efforts, regardless of an appeal. Signature gathering had been halted pending Kinder’s ruling.
Missourians Against Human Cloning (MAHC), a non-profit advocacy group which led the challenge as plaintiffs, announced that it would appeal the decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City. An expedited hearing date has already been set by the court for March 2.
MAHC was joined in the case by several Missouri citizens affected by physical disabilities, but who also have convictions against cloning, including Missouri Baptist Pastor David Mason and his daughter Sarah. MAHC was represented at the trial by Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and Bioethics Defense Fund. Plaintiff interveners in the case included the Missouri Catholic Conference and the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC).
MBC was represented by one of its Executive Board members, Cindy Province, who is a bio-ethics nurse, and Ralph Sawyer, MBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church, Wentzville. Kansas City Attorney Michael Whitehead acted as legal counsel for the MBC and its officials. Whitehead will also serve as co-counsel for MAHC on the appeal.
Whitehead explained that appellate courts typically give “great deference” to the trial judge in these cases, making an appeal difficult. “The seriousness of the issue, however, makes an appeal necessary,” he said.
“We must try to convince two of three judges that the ballot title is not fair if it says human cloning will be banned. In fact, therapeutic cloning will be made a constitutional right, beyond the reach of the people to regulate.
“We will ask the court to simply strike out the weasel words. If Missourians understand that, they will vote ‘no’ on the right to clone.”
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. “They want to amend the state Constitution to protect a particular business industry. That will be unprecedented.”
The plaintiffs tried to show there are at least two types of cloning—therapeutic and reproductive—and that the ballot title, which includes the words “ban human cloning or attempted cloning” applies only to reproductive cloning and implantation.
Plaintiffs 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, and the initiative would only prohibit the second type. A witness for the defendants, Dr. Douglas Melton of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, testified that the one word “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.
“The ballot title should be written for people like Dr. Melton’s mother, not for Harvard scientists like Dr. Melton,” Whitehead said. “The title should state that some cloning is protected, or the words ‘ban human cloning’ should be deleted.”
Even though Judge Kinder wound up affirming every word of Carnahan’s language, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Province, who is a member of First Baptist Church, Harvester, 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 asked Melton about the effectiveness of embryonic stem cell research, “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.”
It is not known whether the proposed amendment will be on the August or November ballot.