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Missouri appeals court looks at stem cell ballot

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 | 7:13 p.m. CDT; updated 3:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY — The long-running controversy over human embryonic stem cell research in Missouri moved to the state appeals court Wednesday, where both sides argued over a ballot summary of a constitutional amendment that opponents of the research want to put before voters in November.

The ballot proposal would ban a specific kind of embryonic stem cell research that was protected under a constitutional amendment approved by Missouri voters in 2006.

The issue before the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District was a ballot summary of the proposal, written by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, that is designed to explain the proposed amendment to voters.

When Carnahan released her summary language in October, supporters of the proposed amendment, led by the Cures Without Cloning, said it was inaccurate and could turn voters against the measure. Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce agreed in February and rewrote the ballot summary.

Supporters of stem cell research, led by the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, then appealed Joyce’s ruling.

Edward Greim, representing Cures Without Cloning, argued that Carnahan’s summary improperly includes policy and social claims and does not include the central purpose of the proposed amendment, which is to ban human embryonic cloning.

“The statement really missed the legal core of this proposal,” Greim said in an interview after the hearing. “Instead it made predictions and policy arguments and various other types of claims that don’t belong in a summary statement.”

Attorneys for Carnahan and supporters of stem cell research responded that the summary was an accurate synopsis of the proposed amendment. They also argued that the proposed amendment is so poorly written that it is difficult to know what the consequences would be, but said it would make criminals of doctors, researchers and patients involved in stem cell research.

“It is not unreasonable for the secretary of state to put people on notice what the consequences of this measure would be,” attorney Karen Mitchell said.

The 2006 amendment approved by voters made it a crime to “clone or attempt to clone a human being.” But it allowed a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer as long as a cloned embryo is not implanted in a woman’s uterus.

The ballot initiative being proposed this year would ban somatic cell nuclear transfer, which opponents claim destroys a cloned human being when stem cells are removed from the embryo.

Carnahan’s ballot summary says the amendment would “repeal the current ban on human cloning” and limit access to stem cell research and therapies by criminalizing some currently allowed procedures.

In her revision in February, Joyce said the amendment would “change the definition of cloning and ban some of the research as approved by voters in November 2006.” She also removed Carnahan’s suggestion that the amendment would criminalize some existing research.

“No matter how many times they file and re-file their petition, or how it is summarized on the ballot, the biggest and most dangerous flaw remains,” Donn Rubin, president of Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. “It threatens to repeal our access to medical research and cures available to other Americans.”

Greim called those arguments an “exercise in rhetoric.”

“Really, the intent of the proposal is very clear and the secretary of state simply reported it her own way, and she can’t do that,” he said.

The judges did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.


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