Gathering defends stem-cell research

Thursday, March 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:58 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — More than 100 women from the Hadassah organization filled the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby against legislation that could outlaw stem-cell research in what they called the “State of Stem Cells Event.”

The bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, could outlaw human cloning and stem-cell research, which some scientists say could lead to cures for degenerative diseases.

Hadassah, an international organization of Zionist women, has chapters in all 50 states and in Israel. It has more than 300,000 members worldwide.

Sauci Saffitz, one of the St. Louis co-organizers of the daylong lobbying effort, said the group wants legislators to know that many people oppose legislation that hinders scientific progress.

“We are in favor of stem-cell research; it is essential for that to continue,” she said.

Human cloning has been hotly debated at the Capitol in recent weeks as lawmakers wrestle over whether the cells used in stem-cell research qualify as human life. If so, such research would be barred under Bartle’s bill. Both supporters and opponents of the legislation have made appearances in Jefferson City to pressure the Missouri General Assembly. Bartle said he welcomed the opportunity to clear up misconceptions about what the bill is intended to do.

“I was pleased to talk with opponents of my bill,” Bartle said. “People are surprised when they learn about noncontroversial adult stem-cell research.”

The debate has been watched closely because of its potential implications for life-science research.

Hadassah’s activities in the Capitol included talking to its local representatives and senators and holding a reception in the Rotunda.

Hadassah member Theresa Jernigan of Kansas City, who has used a wheelchair for eight years because of a spinal cord injury, said stem-cell research could help her condition.

“We don’t want a miraculous cure,” she said. “We just want to be like everyone else. I want to be like everyone else.”

The Senate version of the bill left committee on Feb. 14 and awaits debate on the Senate floor.

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, voted against the bill in committee.

“I’m certainly committed that the ban on stem cells doesn’t pass,” Graham said, adding that he appreciates Hadassah’s support.

Supporters of the bill, headed by Missouri Right to Life, plan a day of extensive lobbying on Tuesday.

Saffitz said the most important thing about the day was to get the word out.

“I think our viewpoint has been under-represented, but I think that will be changing starting today,” she said.

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