Stem cell lawsuit dismissed

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 | 8:03 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — A state trial judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday filed by critics of embryonic stem cell research who wanted to block $21 million in state funds from going to life sciences research.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled that no genuine legal dispute existed yet and that the lawsuit amounted to a request for an advisory opinion.

Missouri Roundtable for Life, which filed the lawsuit earlier this year, vowed to appeal and threatened to sue anyone who receives the research grants. The group is concerned that those grants could go to support embryonic stem cell research.

"We will not let tax dollars go unrestricted to these groups that are privately controlled and may be used to make profits off abortions and research the legislature banned," said Fred Sauer, the group's founder.

Sauer was represented by Ed Martin, Gov. Matt Blunt's former chief of staff. Martin had said a 2006 amendment to the Missouri Constitution clarifying the legal status of stem cell research makes unclear the validity of existing limits on what kinds of research can receive the life sciences grants.

Martin said it also is possible that under the 2006 amendment, the Life Sciences Research Board will now always need to receive at least $21 million and any entity receiving a research grant could be entitled to at least that sum every year.

Sauer was asking Callahan to make a determination on those questions.

The $21 million at issue was budgeted by lawmakers to flow from the Life Sciences Research Trust Fund to the Life Sciences Research Board, which then distributes the money as research grants. The trust fund was created in 2003 to spend one-quarter of Missouri's annual proceeds from a legal settlement between states and tobacco companies.

The 2003 law creating the fund bars spending money for abortion services and human cloning — limits that stem research critics contend might have been trumped by the 2006 constitutional amendment.

That voter-approved amendment guarantees stem cell research legal under federal law also can be conducted in Missouri. It allows scientists to clone embryos and remove the stem cells — a procedure that some critics contend creates and destroys human life at its earliest stages.

Sauer's attorneys had argued that the state law creating the life sciences trust fund and the restrictions on how that fund can be used are linked. Therefore, if the 2006 amendment trumped the restrictions it also nullified the fund.

But Callahan called the claim "dubious" because the clause requiring the trust fund to be eliminated if the restrictions are removed only applies if the research limits are declared invalid or unconstitutional. Callahan also noted that the restrictions on research that can be funded through the trust fund was strengthened by lawmakers.

Lawmakers this year added more restrictions. The legislation states that the money can be used "exclusively on animal science, plant science, medical devices, biomaterials and composite research, diagnostics, nanotechnology related to drug development and delivery, clinical imaging and information technology related to human health."

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