A few years ago, I took a biology course in college to fulfill a general requirement for a degree. I never expected that in just a few years I would see a key, seemingly clear, topic we studied in the middle of a major political debate that tried to misinform the public about science. If you think I am referring to the “intelligent design debate,” think again. I am referring to Missouri Amendment 2, the so-called “Life Saving Cures” amendment that focuses on protection of certain forms of embryonic stem cell research. It may be an election issue specific to Missouri, but its repercussions will likely play a role in future promotion of similar amendments elsewhere.
The supporters of the stem cell amendment claim that the issue is about “cures, not cloning.” The Danforth brothers and other well known Missouri movers and shakers have thrown their support to the amendment's cause and the “clarification” that asserts no cloning is involved, as have celebrities such as Michael J. Fox and Sheryl Crow. To be sure, by mounting a well-funded advertising campaign, many Missourians have come to believe that cloning is not an issue with this amendment, suspecting that those who claim otherwise are really just a radical fringe that care little about those who suffer.
In reality, Amendment 2 protects a process known as SCNT (“Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer”), the process that was used to create the clone Dolly the Sheep. Back in my college class, that was free of the especially heavy politicization of an election season, there seemed to be little question that SCNT was a method of cloning.
The connection between cloning and stem cells is not surprising: not only do embryonic research “cures,” should they ever be found, require an embryo to harvest the cells from, it is also desirable to use an embryo that has identical genetic information to the person needing treatment. Without cloning, the stem cell created treatments would face immune system rejection just as donated organs do.
With this in mind, supporters of the stem cell initiative wish to protect not only the controversial process of embryonic stem cell harvesting, which requires destruction of a human embryo, but also the process of cloning humans. To avoid the negative press that would come with a constitutional protection for cloning, Amendment 2 makes it mandatory that all clones be aborted, but that does not erase the fact that a distinct being was cloned prior to the abortion.
Being against the stem cell initiative does not imply one is a cold-hearted person isolated from the diseases that embryonic stem cells will supposedly help treat. For my part, I watched my grandmother die from Alzheimer’s and a great aunt suffer from Parkinson’s. The real issue is the question of whether the end supports the disturbing means. From a pro-life standpoint, it is clear that Amendment 2 is troubling since it includes the double issues of cloning and abortion. However, the amendment’s protection of SCNT for “therapeutic cloning” is an issue that may very well disturb many pro-choice voters as well.
When it comes down to voting on this amendment, it may be that Missourians are willing to support cloning because they weigh the elusive goal of “cures” as a more important moral issue than that of cloning. Though some would like to pretend otherwise, voting for this amendment does present serious moral questions, ones that deserve serious consideration rather than being hidden under the table.
Proceeding in a quest that will likely help accelerate the work of bringing a cloned human to birth is something we should not take lightly, and certainly not something that should be supported by misinformation. If the amendment is worth passing, it should be worth passing without hiding SCNT and precisely what that procedure is.
We are at a crossroads. Human cloning, including the eventual birth of a clone, may be unavoidable. What Missourians, and citizens of other states who are or will face similar stem cell amendments, must ask is if we are willing to play a crucial role in that process.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of OFB. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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