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Judge rewrites contentious ballot summary for stem cell initiative

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 | 7:54 p.m. CST; updated 10:21 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A judge rewrote the ballot language Wednesday for a proposed constitutional amendment banning a particular kind of embryonic stem cell research after supporters claimed the state’s original description was biased.

The ruling marks the second time that courts have struck down ballot summaries prepared by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan for contentious initiatives. Last month, a judge also rewrote the ballot language for a proposal limiting affirmative action programs.

Timeline

November 2006: Missouri voters approve stem cell ballot initiative to ensure in-state, federally approved embryonic stem cell research, amending the state constitution. The Stowers Institute for Medical Research announces plans for a $25 million expansion to its facility in Kansas City in conjunction with the amendment’s passing. June 2007: The Stowers Institute for Medical Research puts plans on hold, citing “persistent negative political climate” to stem cell research in Missouri. August 2007: Cures Without Cloning launches initiative to prohibit human cloning, filing a ballot proposal that would create a constitutional amendment also banning any tax funding for cloning research. If the group gets enough signatures, the ballot measure would be voted on November 2008. October 2007: Secretary of State Robin Carnahan officially submits stem cell ballot summary, drawing criticism from Cures Without Cloning over the summary wording. February 2008: Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce strikes down Carnahan’s ballot wording, calling it “insufficient and unfair.


Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce ruled that Carnahan’s summary of the stem cell amendment was “insufficient and unfair” but didn’t elaborate on why in her short written decision.

The ballot proposal would reverse part of a constitutional amendment narrowly approved by voters in 2006 that ensured all federally allowed stem cell research and treatments can occur in Missouri. That measure allowed the use of an embryonic cloning technique, which the latest proposal seeks to ban.

Under Missouri law, sponsors of citizen initiatives submit their proposals to the secretary of state’s office, which then writes a summary to appear on the ballot.

After Carnahan released the stem cell summary in October, the sponsoring group Cures Without Cloning immediately claimed her language was biased against it. Now that its legal challenge is resolved, a group spokesman said supporters plan to start gathering the petition signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.

Cures Without Cloning chairwoman Lori Buffa claimed Carnahan’s language was a “blatant attempt to mislead the Missouri voters.”

“This ruling proves what we’ve said (all) along: that our clear, concise initiative would prohibit human cloning and the taxpayer funding of human cloning in Missouri,” Buffa said in a written statement.

Carnahan’s office released a brief written statement defending its description.

“It’s our job under the law to summarize initiative petitions, and the summary we prepared for this measure is fair and accurately reflects the underlying measure,” the statement said.

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which sponsored the 2006 amendment, said it was considering an appeal of Wednesday’s court ruling and would mount a “vigorous campaign” encouraging people not to sign the new initiative petition. The coalition spent $30 million for the 2006 initiative.

“We must not padlock the toolbox until we know what tools will help cure cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia and spinal cord injury,” coalition chairman Donn Rubin said in a written statement.

Carnahan’s original summary would have asked voters whether “to repeal the current ban on human cloning or attempted cloning and to limit Missouri patients’ access to stem cell research, therapies and cures approved by voters in November 2006.”

The judge’s revision asks voters whether “to change the definition of cloning and ban some of the research as approved by voters in November 2006.”

Joyce largely adopted the language suggested by Cures Without Cloning in its lawsuit.

Specifically, the judge struck Carnahan’s further description that the measure was “redefining the ban on human cloning or attempted human cloning to criminalize and impose civil penalties for some existing research, therapies and cures.”

Instead, Joyce substituted language proposed by supporters that says the measure is “prohibiting human cloning that is conducted by creating a human embryo at any stage from the one-cell stage onward.”

The judge also added a line proposed by sponsors noting that other stem cell research would be allowed.

At issue is a procedure known scientifically as somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which a person’s cell is injected into a human egg, which is then stimulated to grow as if it had been fertilized by a sperm. Scientists remove the resulting stem cells for research, destroying the newly formed embryo.

There is no indication anyone in Missouri is conducting such research. But proponents hope it could someday lead to treatments for ailments such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

The 2006 amendment made it a crime, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, to “clone or attempt to clone a human being.” But its definition of human cloning allowed somatic cell nuclear transfer, as long as no one attempted to implant the cloned embryo in a woman’s uterus.

Opponents of the 2006 measure contend that definition is deceptive. They say a cloned human exists the moment scientists create that embryo and that a human is killed when the stem cells are removed.


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