Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of special preview stories about the 2006 Election.
Today: A preview of efforts in Missouri to defeat Amendment 2, the therapeutic cloning-embryonic stem cell initiative.
Tomorrow: A preview of a vote in South Dakota to keep an abortion ban.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Robert and Anna Burnett of Kansas City, Mo., have a personal interest in a much-debated Missouri ballot initiative that would protect embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.
Their two children, 14-month-old twins EmmaLyn and Ian, formerly were frozen embryos — the very same type of embryos that are thawed and destroyed to harvest stem cells for research. The Burnetts are vocal opponents of the initiative, Amendment 2, and for good reason.
In recent weeks they have traveled the state, urging Missourians to vote “no” on the proposal. They aren’t opposed to all stem cell research — just the research that requires the destruction of embryos.
“We’ve basically been willing to go anywhere anyone’s asked us to go, just to bring the babies and to say, ‘Here are two lives. This is what we’re talking about. When you destroy these embryos you’re destroying a life,'” Robert Burnett told Baptist Press.
EmmaLyn and Ian are products of embryo adoption, a growing industry that allows couples — most of them infertile — to adopt embryos left over from in vitro fertilization treatments. While many scientists want to use those embryos for research, others argue the embryos should be adopted and given a chance to be born.
The Burnetts adopted their two children from an Illinois couple through the California-based Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program (www.Snowflakes.org). Other embryo adoption programs include the National Embryo Donation Center (www.EmbryoDonation.org) in Tennessee and Embryos Alive (www.EmbryosAlive.com) in Ohio.
Robert, 43, and Anna, 41, turned to embryo adoption after six years of being unable to conceive either naturally or with the assistance of fertility treatments. Now, they’re encouraging others in the state to protect the very frozen embryos that gave them a chance at parenthood. They even put together an anti-Amendment 2 flier with their story. It includes a quote from Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small!”
“They’re not all destined for the trashcan,” Robert Burnett said of frozen embryos. “They’re not going to be thrown away.”
While supporters of embryonic stem cell research often argue there are “thousands” of extra frozen embryos available for research — the number 400,000 often is used — Burnett says the number is much smaller. According to a 2003 RAND study, only 2.3 percent (or, 11,000) of the approximately 400,000 frozen embryos in America have been designated by couples for research. The overwhelming majority, 88 percent, are set aside for “future attempts at pregnancy.”
“There’s not that many embryos left,” he said. “They think that there’s 400,000 embryos, but there are not.”
Amendment 2, though, would allow the creation of new embryos through therapeutic cloning — which the text of the amendment refers to as “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT). Although the actual ballot language says the amendment bans cloning, the amendment itself — included in some 2,000-words — says it would protect SCNT, which is the same method used to clone Dolly the sheep. The amendment requires the cloned embryos to be destroyed after 14 days. Therapeutic cloning, Burnett says, amounts to “creating a life solely for the purpose of destroying a life.”
Much controversy over the amendment has focused on whether it would prohibit women from profiting from the donation of their eggs for therapeutic cloning. While one part of the amendment says people cannot “purchase or sell” eggs and that all eggs must be “donated” voluntarily, another part of the amendment seems to put no restrictions on eggs sold to fertility clinics.
“It’s protecting and creating a whole new industry for the creation and the harvesting of eggs,” Burnett said. “It’s deceptive.”
The Burnetts are supporters of adult stem cell research, which harvests stem cells from umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow and has produced treatments for 72 ailments, according to at least one estimate. Meanwhile, embryonic stem cell research has yet to produce any treatments. Recently, a California research institute set to receive $3 billion in funds released a draft report stating that any cures from embryonic stem cell research are 10 or more years away — disappointing many voters who had supported the voter initiative that created the institute.
The Burnetts’ attempt to put a face on frozen embryos may not sway everyone, but they hope it changes a few minds. They have two small reasons it should.
“It’s been miraculous to see them grow,” Robert Burnett said of EmmaLyn and Ian. “They both have their own personality and their own way of seeing the world. It’s been a joy.”
To read the full text of Amendment 2, visit
For more information about Amendment 2, visit the website for Missourians Against Human Cloning at www.nocloning.org