Missouri's stem-cell mistake
Few issues dominated news in Missouri this year like stem-cell research. In November, Amendment 2, a pro-embryonic-stem-cell measure, passed with less than 51 percent of the vote. Media nationwide cheered the result.
Today, the cheap slogans are gone. But the destructive impact of the law's fine print is not. At the time, supporters called it the "anti-cloning" amendment. Actually, it writes legal protection for human cloning into Missouri's constitution. The ethical and moral implications are significant and disturbing.
Here's a warning to other states looking to follow suit: Don't get hooked by the lure of stem-cell research riches. You'll just end up corrupting science, the law, and the sanctity of human life.
The pro-Amendment 2 forces, girded by a $30 million campaign bankrolled by biotech special interests, might have expected a greater margin of victory, considering opponents had a tenth of that to spend. It seems $30 million is the price tag for mass deception.
The first page of Amendment 2 claims to ban human cloning. A couple pages later, buried in the proverbial fine print, the amendment pledges protection for "somatic cell nuclear transfer."
This scientifically sexy phrase is little more than intentional misdirection. Nuclear transfer is cloning – a fact that the National Academies of Science and the American Medical Association recognize.
Quite simply, nuclear transfer entails fusing a woman's egg with the DNA of another cell, creating a living human embryo. The embryo is then allowed to grow several days until it is ripped apart to harvest its stem cells like a cash crop.
Thus, biotech special interests surreptitiously achieved constitutional protection of human cloning under the guise of a ban. Yet, sadly, only 49 percent of Missourians were able to wade through the swamps of disinformation.
Now that the cloning license is constitutionally protected in Missouri, there is a new demand for millions of fresh human eggs. But this is no problem for the cloners. Amendment 2 specifically allows fertility clinics to purchase women's eggs for any amount of money. Thus, women's fertility is put up for bid in the marketplace, and women's bodies are commodified and sold to the highest bidder.
Amendment 2 supporters may claim that such an assessment of Missouri's future is scaremongering. They may say that the future in Missouri is bright, that "Amendment 2 will usher in new investment and cures."
In truth, private investors have found it difficult to find funds for embryonic stem-cell research. This is the very reason big biotech needs Missourian taxpayer dollars to fund its morally offensive research.
The implication that embryonic stem cells will provide "life-saving cures" – the same implication made by Michael J. Fox in his highly publicized television ads – is patently false.
Such an assessment not only disingenuously portrays opponents as heartless bio-Luddites, but it inaccurately portrays the science.
To date, research scientists have failed to provide even one treatment for human patients with embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, trials in mice have repeatedly shown that the treatment will be problematic.
At its best, embryonic stem-cell research is unnecessary; at its worst, it's deeply unethical. Peddling this false hope to desperate people is shameful. Adult stem cells, meanwhile, are producing treatments and hope for people right now.
Perhaps an honest assessment of these facts will effect a change of heart among Missourians and a collective reassessment of Amendment 2, possibly in 2008, but it's not likely. And Amendment 2 forbids anyone from discouraging "stem cell-related activity," and makes it a punishable offense. So much for free speech.
More and more officials say they want to bring embryonic stem-cell research to their state. In the next election cycle, it's likely that several states will have measures such as Amendment 2 on the ballot.
But government should never be able to veto the inviolable dignity of human life.
When citizens give the state the power to dispose of society's most defenseless members, democracy devolves into tyranny.
• Dr. David Prentice, senior fellow for Life Sciences at the Family Research Council and affiliated scholar at the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, worked on the Amendment 2 project in Missouri.