ST. LOUIS — A proposed state ballot measure to restrict embryonic stem cell research is flawed because its definition of “human” would exclude people with common genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome, critics said Monday.
The group proposing the ballot measure, Cures Without Cloning, said late Monday afternoon it will revise the language.
Cures Without Cloning proposed the measure last week, seeking to ban a controversial research method that uses human embryos. The ballot language says human life begins when an egg receives “a complete set of forty-six chromosomes and continues through any subsequent stages of embryonic, fetal, postnatal and later development.”
Opponents of the measure say Missourians with conditions like Down, Turner or Klinefelter syndromes, with 45 or 47 chromosomes, depending on the condition, are left out of the definition.
“If you’re one of the thousands of Missourians with a chromosomal abnormality, this amendment defines you as not being human,” said Sessions Cole, vice chair of pediatrics at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, who is a supporter of stem cell research.
He was among opponents of the proposed ballot measure who spoke at an afternoon news conference about the language concern in St. Louis.
Curt Mercadante, spokesman for Cures Without Cloning said, “I guess my short and quick response is, ‘Are they serious?’”
He called the concern a political smoke screen, but said the Cures Without Cloning group didn’t want Missourians to be distracted by it.
“We’re going to go back and strengthen our amendment and revise our language,” he said.
Donn Rubin, chairman of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said opponents are just beginning to analyze other problems with the language, but he called this one “shocking and egregious.”
“We can already see that this is a deceptively written proposal, and its impact is unknown,” he said.
Mercadante said supporters of embryonic stem cell research are masking the fact that they support the same method that resulted in a cloned animal, Dolly the Sheep. Embryonic stem cell supporters have said the law is clear that human cloning is illegal, and additional wording isn’t necessary.
The proposed ballot measure pushed by Cures Without Cloning attempts to reverse a key portion of last year’s stem cell amendment by creating a new definition for banned human cloning activities.
The group, and others supporting the measure, want to collect at least 200,000 signatures to get the measure put on the ballot.
The measure would add another cloning definition to the state constitution and prohibit somatic cell nuclear transfer or “any other human cloning technique developed in 5 or 10 years,” Mercadante said. Embryonic stem cell supporters do not see the method as human cloning.
In that method, a human cell is injected into a human egg, which is then 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.
The hope among stem cell supporters is that the method will lead to treatments for Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other ailments.
The stem cell amendment, which Missourians passed last year 51 percent to 49 percent, makes it a crime to “clone or attempt to clone a human being.” However, the amendment’s definition of human cloning allows somatic cell nuclear transfer, as long as no one attempts to implant the cloned embryo in a woman’s uterus.
The new ballot proposal would not prohibit other methods of embryonic stem cell research, including those conducted on embryos created, but never used for, in-vitro fertilization.