Group proposes amendment to restrict further stem cell research

Wednesday, August 22, 2007 | 9:28 p.m. CDT; updated 10:08 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Less than a year after Missourians narrowly voted to establish a constitutional right for stem cell research, a new group has proposed a constitutional amendment to restrict that same right.

Cures Without Cloning submitted paperwork to the Missouri secretary of state’s office Wednesday for a constitutional amendment targeted for the November 2008 ballot. The language of the proposal would ban any form of human cloning, including the practice termed somatic cell nuclear transfer. The group has also set up a campaign finance committee through the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Initiative process

The group Cures Without Cloning filed paperwork Wednesday with the Missouri secretary of state for a proposed constitutional amendment. But a lot still must occur before the measure can actually appear on the November 2008 ballot. Here’s a step-by-step look at Missouri’s initiative process. 1. Supporters file their proposed ballot language with the secretary of state. 2. The state auditor prepares a financial estimate and summary for the ballot measure. 3. The secretary of state prepares a ballot summary of the proposal’s language. 4. The attorney general approves the legal content and form of the ballot language summary and financial summary. 5. The secretary of state certifies the ballot initiative for supporters to start gathering petition signatures. 6. Supporters need enough signatures from registered voters to equal 8 percent of the votes cast in each of six of Missouri’s nine congressional districts in the last gubernatorial election. 7. The petition signatures are submitted to the secretary of state, who forwards them for verification to local election authorities. 8. After local election officials report back to the state, the secretary of state determines whether the initiative received enough valid petition signatures to be certified to appear on the ballot.

“The Missouri Constitution currently allows for human cloning. It allows for the same cloning method that created Dolly the sheep,” said Lori Buffa, chairwoman of Cures Without Cloning, in a news release. “This initiative will ensure this dangerous, unproven, unnecessary practice is prohibited and allow us to focus on safe research that leads to lifesaving cures and treatments.”

The new proposal, without specifically repealing last year’s measure, attempts to reverse a key portion by creating a new definition for banned human cloning activities. It also would bar tax dollars from going to such cloning research.

Connie Farrow, spokesperson for The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures and sponsor of the 2006 proposal, said this new effort is fundamentally deceptive.

“We have already banned human cloning. We make it a felony punishable by up to fifteen years in prison and a $250,000 fine,” Farrow said. “We believe that Missourians understood this issue. It’s reprehensible that this group would suggest that Missourians were too stupid to know what it was that they were doing. At the end of the day, that is what they are saying, that you were tricked, that you didn’t understand fully what it was that was being presented before you.”

Proponents of the ballot initiative, however, say their effort is not linked with the past, and they have one specific goal.

“This is a very narrowly- targeted amendment initiative that would only prohibit human cloning. Human cloning is not necessary for lifesaving cures and the assertion that it is, is wrong,” said Curt Mercadante, spokesperson for Cures Without Cloning. “This would allow us to focus our energies on proven safe treatments and cures that don’t involve human cloning.”

At issue is somatic cell nuclear transfer, a procedure in which a person’s cell is injected into a human egg that is later stimulated to grow as if it had been fertilized by a sperm. Scientists remove the resulting stem cells for research, destroying the newly formed embryo.

There’s no indication that anyone in Missouri is actually conducting such research. But proponents hope it could someday lead to treatments for ailments such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

Last year’s amendment made it a crime, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, to “clone or attempt to clone a human being.” But its definition of human cloning allowed somatic cell nuclear transfer, so long as no one attempted to implant the cloned embryo in a woman’s uterus.

The new ballot initiative would add another definition to the Missouri Constitution that would encompass — and ban — somatic cell nuclear transfer.

But it would not repeal the old definition, leaving contradicting sections in the constitution.

It also would not prohibit other methods of embryonic stem cell research, including those conducted on embryos created — but never used — for in vitro fertilization.

Bill Neaves, president of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, called the new group a “handful of naysayers.” His institute, located in Kansas City, conducts stem cell research.

“Embryonic stem cell research is not human cloning. Embryonic stem cells, including those made by nuclear transfer, represent hope for millions of patients,” Neaves said.

James and Virginia Stowers, founders of the Stowers Institute, were responsible for nearly all the funding for the 2006 initiative, contributing over $30 million. The institute recently put its expansion project, promised to Missourians upon the passage of the November amendment, on hold.

Mercadante said the next step for Cures Without Cloning is to gather petitions, raise money and get the word out.

“We are very confident that this will be a successful effort and that we will get the support that we need across the board,” Mercadante said.

Farrow said the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures is adamant that it is not going to let Cures Without Cloning take Missouri backwards.

“These folks have been masquerading as pro-stem cell advocates,” Farrow said. “We believe that Missourians will stand strong against this phony effort.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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