Deceptive Initiative Would Mislead Missouri Into Supporting Cloning

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Deceptive Initiative Would Mislead Missouri Into Supporting Cloning Email this article
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by Yuval Levin
October 19, 2006 Note: Yuval Levin is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and senior editor of the The New Atlantis magazine.

This November, voters in Missouri will be asked to consider a ballot initiative on human cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research. The initiative has been the focus of an intense (if lopsided) campaign in the state for months, with millions of dollars in ads calling for passage. But many of the most basic facts about just what the proposal says and aims to do have not fully emerged.

The Kansas City Star this week reports that the initiative’s sponsor, the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, has spent more than $28 million on the effort. More than 97 percent of the money has come from James and Virginia Stowers, the billionaire founders of American Century mutual funds, who have also founded a research institute in Kansas City that wants to take a leading role in the stem-cell game. $28 million is a lot of money, and would have paid for a lot of stem-cell research. Why spend it on this initiative campaign instead? What exactly is it buying?

The official summary that will appear on the ballot tells voters the initiative’s first purpose is to “ensure Missouri patients have access to any therapies and cures, and allow Missouri researchers to conduct any research, permitted under federal law.” In other words, to take away from state legislators the authority to govern the practices of stem-cell scientists in the state, and to hand that authority to the federal government alone instead. Missouri could not regulate any practice that Congress has not seen fit to regulate.

The initiative’s advocates have not done much to explain to voters why they should cede this bit of sovereignty, or why even those who support embryo-destructive stem-cell research should think that state legislators would restrict it more than Congress would. Indeed, while the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to ban all human cloning, and the Congress each year passes restrictions on federal funding of research in which human embryos are harmed, no such bills have ever even come up for a vote in the Missouri legislature.

More peculiar still, the actual text of the initiative does not quite match the summary’s assertion that all research permitted nationally would be protected in Missouri. In fact, the initiative bans the creation of human embryos through in vitro fertilization if it is undertaken solely for research purposes, and bans the extraction of cells from embryos older than 14 days.

Neither is prohibited under federal law, and the former is a fairly regular practice. Stem-cell researchers, especially in the private sector, produce and destroy embryos solely for research purposes all the time. (Here, on page 22, for instance, is an ad from the Washington Post’s Express commuter paper asking women to provide their eggs for such endeavors.)

To read the rest of the column, click here.