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Missouri Baptists fight cloning/embryonic stem cell measure

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Missouri Baptists have stepped up their attack on the controversial embryonic stem cell measure that is facing voters in the November general election.

The Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive board has given $100,000 to an organization dedicated to the defeat of Amendment 2, which would amend the Missouri Constitution to protect embryonic stem cell research within the state. It also would ensure that therapeutic cloning — which supporters call “somatic cell nuclear transfer” — will remain legal. In therapeutic cloning, an embryo is cloned but is killed before being implanted in the woman. Embryonic stem cell research also requires the destruction of the embryo.

Concord Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church located in Jefferson City -– Missouri’s capital city — was the first of three churches in the state to host anti-Amendment 2 rallies. And two other key influential Missouri Baptist women have also joined the fight.

Susan Klein, wife of a Missouri Baptist pastor and the chief lobbyist for Missouri Right to Life, along with Cindy Province, a member of the MBC executive board and associate director of the St. Louis Center for Bioethics and Culture, are working to educate voters about what they describe as “a disguised attempt” to get scientists into the cloning business.

“God is the creator of life, not the bio-tech industry,” Klein said. “Amendment 2, if passed, legalizes the right for scientists to get into the business of creation. In essence, if Amendment 2 passes, then Genesis 1:27 will be in the Missouri Constitution except that the Missouri Constitution version will say: ‘So scientists created a human being in the image they so chose, in the image of their choosing they created a clone.”

Amendment 2 supporters maintain that the initiative bans cloning. In fact, the ballot language says the amendment would “ban human cloning or attempted cloning.” But the amendment itself refers three times to somatic cell nuclear transfer — the scientific name for therapeutic cloning.

“We are not accustomed to discussing scientific phrases such as ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer’ over our morning coffee,” said Province, who has a master’s degree in bioethics. “However, as science and technology continue to advance and to affect our world in many ways, Baptists will more and more often be required to stretch our mental faculties in order to understand what is being done.”

Pro-lifers also note that adult stem cell research — which doesn’t use embryos to obtain stem cells — already is providing treatments for all sorts of ailments. According to Do No Harm, an organization that promotes ethics in research, adult stem cells have provided treatments and therapies for 72 ailments, including brain cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and sickle cell anemia. Many scientists believe embryonic stem cells have the most potential, although to date adult stem cells are the only ones to have any success. Adult stem cells can be harvested from various places, including a person’s fat, bone marrow and placenta.

In 2004, Baptist Press published a story about a South Korean paraplegic woman who walked six weeks after undergoing a transplant with adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood. That same year, two American women, Susan Fajt, from Austin, Texas, and Laura Dominguez, from San Antonio, began walking with braces after receiving transplants with their own stem cells.

Province said it is difficult to combat the complexity of the issue when it is combined with all the misinformation being broadcast via the media. Several media outlets in Missouri have used the “somatic cell nuclear transfer” phrase without defining it.

“When Amendment 2 supporters announced their campaign in February 2005 they claimed 500,000 Missourians could be cured by somatic cell nuclear transfer and human embryonic stem cell research,” Province said. “Now the number is down to 285,000 cures. In reality there are no cures after eight years of embryonic stem cell research, and no one knows if there will ever be any cures.”

Recently, a publicly funded California research institute released a draft report stating that any cures from embryonic stem cell research are years away. In fact, the institute, set to receive $1 billion in funds over a decade, said that at the end of the 10 years, its goal simply was to have “therapies in clinical development.” That goal fell short of the hopes of many embryonic stem cell supporters in California. But the report said basic studies on the “fundamental biology” of embryonic stem cells must be done before any cures are found. As of now, scientists’ understanding of embryonic stem cells is “incomplete,” the draft report stated.

Pre-election polls show Amendment 2 opponents have a lot of work to do between now and the election date on November 7. A poll conducted Sept.11-13 by Survey USA showed 52 percent of voters backing Amendment 2, 24 percent opposing it and another 24 percent undecided.

Poll results do not discourage Klein.

“As a Christian, I cannot stand by idle and not speak out against Amendment 2,” she said. “God does not want us as a society to get into the business of creation for economic reasons, for the false hope of finding cures or for any other reason. Only God should be in the business of creation.”

James Cole, general counsel for Missouri Right to Life, said Amendment 2 proponents already have spent more than $10 million on their campaign. According to press reports, 95 percent of support for the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures initiative has come directly or indirectly from the Stowers Family of Kansas City.

“Although the promoters have blanketed the state with their ads, they are keeping quiet about many aspects of the initiative that citizens ought to know about,” Cole said.

“Women’s health will be put at risk to obtain egg cells for cloning. Every known method of cloning requires use of an egg cell. Every woman who agrees to donate egg cells will be treated with hormones to stimulate ovulation of multiple eggs. This can result in clots, bleeding and possibly ovarian cancer later in life.”
— With reporting by Tom Strode

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  • Bob Baysinger