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ELECTION 08: Mich. voters face vote on legalizing embryonic stem cell research

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a special series of stories focusing on the election that Baptist Press will run between now and Nov. 4. Stories will run on Wednesdays and Fridays.

DETROIT (BP)–When Michigan voters consider between now and Nov. 4 whether to allow embryonic stem cell research in their state, they won’t hear much from opponents –- as normally would be the case –- about how adult stem cells have shown more successes.

Sure, adult stem cell advances will be touted, but voters instead will hear from opponents about how the proposed constitutional amendment — known as Proposal 2 — would result in unrestricted, unregulated science in the state. It’s a unique turn in the stem cell debate, which often focuses on whether embryonic stem cells or adult stem cells are more promising.

The amendment’s opponents — who have coalesced under an umbrella organization known as Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science & Experimentation (MICAUSE) — believe they have a winning argument against what they see as a poorly worded amendment.

Supporters of Proposal 2 hope the discussion focuses on embryonic stem cells. Opponents, though, want the discussion to focus on a section of the amendment that says no state or local government can “prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies.” That language, MICAUSE officials believe, would result in state and local governments being unable to provide common-sense regulation on embryonic stem cell research.

“Of course we’re for cures, but we’re against this constitutional amendment, which goes too far,” MICAUSE spokesman David Doyle told Baptist Press. “[Supporters] want to say, ‘Would you support the amendment if you changed it?’ The problem is that it can’t be changed. People get to vote yes or no on this proposal.”

MICAUSE has printed yard signs that say “2 GOES 2 FAR.” The MICAUSE website has three talking points: the proposal is 1) deliberately deceptive; 2) would not strengthen the state’s ban on human cloning, as supporters say it would; and 3) would permit unrestricted science within Michigan.

Two states — California and Missouri — have passed constitutional amendments in the past four years that either fund embryonic stem cell research or prevent it from being banned. Last year, voters in New Jersey defeated a similar proposal that would have added to the state’s ballooning debt. Michigan pro-lifers hope to duplicate the success of New Jersey voters in November.

“This constitutional amendment has a provision in it that says that … the legislature can never pass a law to restrict the research in any way shape or form,” Doyle told BP. “This proposal would allow completely unrestricted and unregulated experimentation on human embryos in Michigan. So, if five years from now or 10 years from now, there’s a stem cell clinic somewhere in Michigan, and the state thinks it would be a good idea to make sure they’re following all health regulations, the legislature wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Supporters of Proposal 2 have set up a website touting various aspects of the amendment, asserting that it would “strengthen Michigan’s ban on human cloning.” The state does have a ban on cloning -– both therapeutic and reproductive –- but Doyle says the amendment would not strengthen it. The pertinent language in the amendment simply says, “Nothing in this section shall alter Michigan’s current prohibition on human cloning.”

“All that means is that whatever the law is, the law is. So, if the ban on cloning that we have today is changed or modified tomorrow or next year or five years from now, that’s what the law will be,” Doyle said.

In fact, there is a bill in the Michigan House and Senate that would overturn the state’s ban on therapeutic cloning, which uses the identical lab procedure -– Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer -– as does reproductive cloning. The only difference is that in therapeutic cloning, the cloned embryo is killed and is not placed in a womb to grow into a baby.

Even though Doyle wants to keep the focus on what he sees as flaws in the proposed amendment, he does have an answer to those who say embryonic stem cell research is the only true path to finding cures.

“I have suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for the past 10 years,” he said. “I would love to see cures. But where all the progress is happening is in adult stem cell research and reprogramming of cells, induced pluripotent stem cells. And as of today, there have been zero clinical trials on embryonic stem cells, because they can’t deal with the problem of immune rejection and tumor growth.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about Proposal 2, visit www.MICAUSE.com.

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  • Michael Foust