Legislative Déjà vu
For those who aren’t following the national human cloning debate, (although it sometimes feels like a traveling dog and pony show) the “Show Me” state of Missouri is currently in a battle similar to that which California faced back in 2004 as Proposition 71 successfully strapped the Golden State with $3 billion in bond debt ($6 billion if you add in the interest). Has it really been eighteen months since Proposition 71 passed? My how time flies when you are tangled up in lawsuits—kudos to Life Legal Defense Foundation!
The Missouri campaign against the cloning of human embryos for the sole purpose of doing destructive embryonic stem cell research mirrors many of the strategies which were attempted out west. First, both states intentionally called it what it is—Human Cloning. Both states have supporters of the legislation who want voters to believe this is a debate over leftover, spare embryos sitting in infertility cold storage which are just going to be thrown away. Wrong. The researchers themselves will tell you, and often quite candidly, that they want fresh eggs, from young women—and lots of them to make disease specific cloned embryos for their specific research. Second, the hype for cures just around the corner for every major disease is rampant. You can already see the television ads running in Missouri, pulling on the heart strings of voters. It reminds me of the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where the father of the bride’s solution for everything is Windex! Embryo stem cells are put on the pedestal of the cure-all for everything—the Holy Grail of stem cells. And finally, both states have opponents of their legislation who seek to form common cause with groups and individuals outside of the traditional conservative prolife fray. There is much to be leery about with this type of legislation.
Feminists are outraged by big biotech’s raping of the female body. Environmentalists are concerned about harnessing human engineering and unleashing harmful technologies which will in turn harm the earth. Social justice concerns are prevalent as worries about producing expensive therapies that only the rich will enjoy, but will be developed on the backs of the poor. And as always, if you follow the money, many people get a queasy feeling. People wonder about the ethics of squandering millions and billions of dollars on speculative research while millions of Americans don’t even have basic health care coverage.
There is one thing those working the Missouri campaign have that California didn’t have. Missourians against human cloning have California in their rear view mirror. Voters, and specifically taxpayers in Missouri, can look at the test case out west and learn from what happened in California before they pour their precious resources down a big black hole.
Since the passage of Proposition 71, and the following lawsuits filed against the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), and the impending appeals (to be filed this week as I type) it is very important to look at the current landscape in the field of stem cell research. It is evident that with the inability to begin selling bonds to fund the activities the CIRM has established, the sky has not fallen and stem cell successes continue to advance and the U.S. maintains its leading edge in the field of stem cell research.
Recently James Sherley, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT said, “In the end, when the public says no to the use of human embryos for research, stem cell research in America will not die. It will just get better from increased research effort on adult stem cells and new approaches to convert adult stem cells, but without the use of human embryos. And when there is good science, good funding and good investment will soon follow, as always.”
And sure enough, with the lawsuit filed by Life Legal Defense Foundation on behalf of People’s Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation and the continued lack of venture capital funding and private monies being dumped into the wallets of big biotech for unethical and controversial research; good science has moved forward. Blood-derived and bone marrow stem cell research is moving forward with wonderful news for heart attack patients. Statewide cord blood banks are popping up all over the nation which will benefit thousands of patients in need of blood stem cell transplants for the myriad cancers which bone marrow transplants traditionally treated. Successes with using the patient’s own stem cells to treat Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis and spinal cord injuries for example are progressing. StemCellResearch.org now has the score card at 65 treatments from adult stem cells to 0 treatments using embryo stem cell research. And these are treatments helping actual patients, right now. Not treatments at the animal trial stage!
All this good news must beg the question. Did we need Proposition 71? No! Does Missouri need to pass their legislation for destructive embryo cloning research? Absolutely not!
[Jennifer Lahl is National Director for The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (www.cbc-network.org).