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Stem cell issue splits candidates

Many factors sway General Assembly hopefuls.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:05 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Candidates for area seats in the Missouri House of Representatives are split on the stem cell initiative known as Amendment 2, which will appear on Tuesday’s ballot.

The amendment would guar­antee that any stem cell research permitted under federal law could be conducted in Missouri. The measure has produced a sharp debate pitting the potential merits of the research, which include the possibility of lifesaving cures and economic development opportunities in the life sciences, against arguments that research involving human embryos violates the sanctity of life.

Among the eight candidates vying for four House seats that represent parts of Boone County, four are in favor of the initiative, three oppose it, and one has not stated a clear position. Here’s a look at who stands where:

9th District

Republican Kathyrne Harper and Democrat Paul Quinn both oppose embryonic stem cell research and the amendment.

Harper, whose younger brother has muscular dystrophy, said she believes an embryo is a human life that should not be destroyed for research purposes.

“I don’t feel we need to cross that moral threshold,” she said. She added that she firmly supports continued work to find cures for genetic diseases through other forms of stem cell research, such as those that involve the use of adult stem cells.

Quinn said he will vote against Amendment 2 because he, too, opposes research involving embryos.

Quinn also opposes abortion rights and said his stance on research involving embryos is “personal.”

“It’s just something I don’t think we should be doing,” he said.

Quinn also cited what he called a lack of significant evidence proving that embryonic stem cell research leads to lifesaving cures that can’t be found other ways.

21st District

Democrat Skip Elkin sup­ports stem cell research. He said ethical concerns have caused him to struggle with the

issue, but he finally decided the research will be worth it if it leads to cures for horrible diseases.

“We owe it to our future generations,” he said. “Improving life is essential.”

“I have been a leader in encouraging lifesaving cures and want to promote research into legal stem cell therapies that could find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” Elkin said in an October news release.

Elkin said such research would also fuel the area’s economy.

“As a county commissioner,” he said, “I’ve been fighting to bring a new research facility to our area that would invest $15 million and create 200 additional jobs that pay on average $40,000 a year.”

Incumbent Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, hasn’t taken a firm stance on the issue during the campaign. He said he’s still trying to find answers for himself before taking a public stance.

Hobbs has a daughter with Down syndrome. He said he’s torn on the issue.

“If we could find cures for diseases like my daughter’s, it would help so many lives,” he said. “But being ethical in research is important, too.”

23rd DISTRICT

Incumbent Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he supports stem cell research and Amendment 2 because it could give hope to people with incurable diseases and could boost the state’s economy.

“I don’t think the state of Missouri should be in the business of denying hope and opportunity and criminalizing scientific research,” said Harris, who added that he supported life science research as part of his first election campaign 4 ½ years ago.

“If we criminalize stem cell research in the state, it sends a message to rest of the country and the rest of world that Missouri is not open to business, to scientists, researchers and 21st century industries,” he said. “It sends the message that Missouri is not a hospitable place for the scientific community.”

Harris said he has no estimate of the potential economic impact of stem cell research in the state.

“We would be doing wrong those kind of people with incurable diseases and afflictions if we were to ban this kind of research,” Harris said.

Patrick Crabtree, the Republican challenger, said he supports stem cell research but opposes a constitutional amendment requiring it be permitted if the federal government allows it.

“I don’t think the constitution is the place for it,” Crabtree said, explaining that it would be difficult to lift the provision out of the constitution if future developments cause legislators and voters to change their minds.

“I think it should be handled in the legislature,” he said.

Crabtree said he does have “concerns with potential ethical issues with the embryonic stem cells.” He said he questions how embryos will be acquired for research.

“That starts to become a concern to a degree,” he said.

Crabtree said he also worries that voters have been inundated with “massive propaganda” from both sides, which makes it difficult to make a wise decision.

“Propaganda has clouded the issue,” he said, adding that he hopes every voter will read the entire text of the proposed amendment before voting.

24th District

Democrat Jim Ritter said he recognizes stem cell research as a legitimate moral issue and reached his conclusion after studying the issue at length.

“The potential for cures is simply too great,” Ritter said. “It’s impossible for me not to support it.”

His support centers on the lives of friends who suffer from diseases or maladies that stem cell research has the potential to cure, he said. He cited a neighbor in medical school who has multiple sclerosis and friends who suffer from diabetes or spinal cord injuries.

The proposed bill prevents human cloning, Ritter said, because that is not what stem cell research is about.

Incumbent Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, struggles with the matter.

“That’s a very difficult decision because it has a lot to do with moral concerns,” Robb said. “It’s an ethical and religious issue.”

Robb said he attended hours of presentations by professors, scientists and religious leaders on both sides of the debate and eventually decided he will support Amendment 2.

Missourian reporters Elizabeth Kusta, Charles Berman, Matthew Haag and Kate Cerve contributed to this report.


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