[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
JEFFERSON CITY — More than 60 research groups and foundations from across Missouri have united under one name in an effort to protect stem-cell research.
The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures formed last week to oppose a legislative proposal to ban human cloning as well as a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. The procedure uses a nucleus extracted from a human egg to study its stem cells, which some scientists say could cure many diseases, such as diabetes.
Coalition chairman Donn Rubin said although there is little human research involving somatic cell transfer in Missouri, supporters do not want to see the end of such promising research.
“We see a grave threat in the proposed legislation,” said Rubin, who is also executive director of the Coalition for Plant and Life Sciences, a St. Louis-based research organization.
The bill stipulates that attempting to clone or cloning a human being would become a Class B felony.
“It would restrict the ability to conduct life-saving research in Missouri,” Rubin said. “Early (stem cell nuclear transfer) stem cells have the potential to become any cell in the body and unique potential for curing disease.”
The coalition has more than 400 individual members. Among the 60 participating groups are the American Diabetes Association, Washington University in St. Louis and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Rubin said the newly formed group plans to build support for stem-cell research in Missouri.
“We’re not going to sit still with any particular number; we’re going to keep educating, keep recruiting new members,” he said.
State Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the anti-cloning bill, said this is not the first group that has formed to oppose the legislation.
“There have been a lot of organizations with compelling names forming,” Bartle said. “Lobbyists are gathering as many people as they can.”
After two public hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday night. If it passes, the full Senate will consider Bartle’s proposal.
Rubin said he hopes the coalition can raise awareness about this issue, especially for those who could directly benefit from somatic cell transfer.
“It is very clear that patient groups care about this,” he said. “We want to give them a mechanism for becoming involved, to have their voice heard.”
The coalition includes Hadassah, a women’s Zionist organization. Describing her support of the effort, Hadassah organizer Sauci Saffitz of St. Louis cited a Hadassah hospital in Israel that is a leader in stem-cell research.
“When we were told about this coalition, it was the obvious thing to do,” Saffitz said. “We had to join the effort.”
Hadassah members from across Missouri plan to lobby for their cause on March 2 at the Capitol, speaking to senators and representatives, as well as holding a reception in the Capitol’s rotunda.
Bartle said many opponents of the bill do not understand its real purpose.
“Most of the opposition sees us as right-wing religious wackos,” he said.
Saffitz said she doesn’t think that is the case.
“What the argument boils down to is ‘when does life begin?’” she said. “This is a difference in opinion.”