Nebraska Pro-Life Groups: Don’t Distort Our Embryonic Stem Cell Research Stance

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 13, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Nebraska Pro-Life Groups: Don’t Distort Our Embryonic Stem Cell Research Stance

by Julie Schmit-Albin, Dr. Sheryl Pitner and Greg Schleppenbach
December 13, 2009 Note: Julie Schmit-Albin is the executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, Dr. Sheryl Pitner is the president of the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research, and Greg Schleppenbach is the pro-life director for the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents failed to limit expansion of embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) at NU. Why won’t we opponents of ESCR get over it and move on? Why were state senators contacting us within hours of the regents’ vote?

Because the public record now says we supported expansion of ESCR.

Regent Jim McClurg cast the decisive vote based on misrepresentations of Legislative Bill 606 and the position of our groups in supporting it. McClurg declared that he would not support a resolution to limit ESCR because LB 606 “created a platform” for expansion of ESCR supported by all parties to the negotiation.

McClurg was repeating a false mantra started by supporters of ESCR after the 2008 election produced a 5-3 majority on the Board of Regents against ESCR. The mantra: Why should the regents bother with this when the Legislature and the governor gave a green light to expansion of ESCR in LB 606, and opponents of ESCR agreed to it?

What nonsense. There’s no way our groups, the governor — who got the sole endorsement of Nebraska Right to Life in 2006 — and 30-some state senators on our side would have supported LB 606 if it had contained even a hint of support for expanded ESCR, never mind a “platform.”

Since 2001, the regents’ policy on ESCR has been to follow federal guidelines. During this time, our groups urged the Legislature several times to set stricter ethical boundaries in state law. Those efforts resulted in 2008 in passage of LB 606, which banned human cloning and destruction of human embryos at state facilities.

The compromise that produced LB 606 was based on the Legislature remaining neutral on expansion of ESCR. LB 606 did not create a permission slip for NU to expand ESCR. This was confirmed in a letter issued prior to the regents’ vote last month by the speaker of the Legislature, the chairman of the committee that handled LB 606, and the bill’s lead negotiator. LB 606 was silent on ESCR, except to snub it by saying grant money provided by LB 606 could be used only on non-embryonic stem-cell research.

Perhaps McClurg resorted to such a disingenuous rationale because he had repeatedly assured constituents and our groups that he opposed expanded ESCR.

He ran successfully for the office in 2006 with a crucial endorsement by Nebraska Right to Life based on his opposition to ESCR. This spring, after President Obama’s announcement that he would broaden federal funding guidelines for ESCR, McClurg sent constituents this message:

I believe that the current policy of the Board of Regents regarding this issue is appropriate and I will vote to sustain our position of not doing any embryonic stem-cell work on cell lines created after August of 2001. There is much wonderful research going on in stem cells that does not require the destruction of embryos, I believe that the destruction of embryos is not necessary or appropriate for the conduct of good and important research, and the research funding and impact at the University of Nebraska Medical Center has been growing dramatically since 2001 with this policy in place.

In July, McClurg advised our groups to show “sharper teeth” in pressing the regents to act. That was one of numerous meetings over the past year in which McClurg confirmed his opposition to expanded ESCR.

But this fall, with the regents focusing on a resolution to limit ESCR as described in McClurg’s message above, McClurg announced he was undecided. He gave no explanation and declined to meet with us.

McClurg’s own words convict him of deceit. His message in the spring, quoted above, was one year after passage of LB 606. He knew LB 606 did not settle the expansion issue. That’s why he was telling constituents he would vote to block expansion!

To justify his betrayal, McClurg joined our adversaries in promoting the false claim that LB 606 endorsed expanded ESCR and we supported it.

This has created the impression in the public record that we, the governor, and a majority of state senators said yes to expanded ESCR at NU.

That’s why this issue is still burning.

Sign Up for Free Pro-Life News From

Daily Pro-Life News Report Twice-Weekly Pro-Life
News Report
Receive a free daily email report from with the latest pro-life news stories on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here. Receive a free twice-weekly email report with the latest pro-life news headlines on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here.