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Mo. governor at odds with fellow Baptists on cloning

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (BP)–Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, used the annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) to voice, once again, his support for therapeutic cloning — putting him at odds with his own state convention and denomination.

Blunt rose to the pulpit of his home church, Second Baptist Church in Springfield, to encourage about 2,000 messengers to “study and pray over increasingly complex issues” related to stem cell research. MBC President Mitch Jackson noted that the governor’s views on cloning and embryonic stem cell research put him at odds with Missouri Southern Baptists, who otherwise “agree with him on 95 percent of the issues.”

Blunt opposes abortion but supports an initiative petition drive in Missouri that would amend the state constitution to prohibit therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research from being banned. If supporters are successful, the initiative would go before voters in November 2006.

Missouri Right to Life’s executive board announced Oct. 20 that Blunt “can no longer be considered pro-life.”

Stem cells are the body’s master cells, and scientists say they are the key to numerous treatments. The debate is over how they should be derived. They can be taken from embryos but also from bone marrow, fat and placentas, and umbilical cord blood. While Christian conservatives support “adult stem cell” research on bone marrow and other “adult” sources, they oppose embryonic stem cell research because it necessarily requires destroying the tiny human beings.

“Because I seek to make the right decisions, and because the relief of suffering is among our most basic values, I consulted my faith, conscience and the Scripture in considering medical research on new treatments and cures for terrible diseases,” Blunt told Missouri Baptists. “I support a ban on human cloning. Like this convention, I support research on stem cells from adult tissue. I believe that public dollars should support research with adult stem cells. As to SCNT -– somatic cell nuclear transfer -– I do not believe that life has been created, since there is no fertilized egg. If I believed the process created life, I would oppose it.”

“Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer” is another term for therapeutic cloning — a process that involves the cloning of an embryo solely for the purpose of harvesting its stem cells. It and its relative, reproductive cloning, differ only in their final result. In reproductive cloning, the embryo is implanted in a woman’s uterus. In therapeutic cloning, it is destroyed.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, criticized Blunt’s position, saying the governor is trying to play “word games” by using phrases that few understand.

“An embryo is a fertilized egg, period,” Land told the Missouri Pathway newspaper in June. “The only difference between you and me and a fertilized egg is time.”

Blunt’s position has created a rift among conservatives. He is a staunch opponent of abortion and up until now has been considered a consistent pro-lifer.

Southern Baptist Convention messengers, the Missouri Baptist Convention and the governor’s pastor, John Marshall, are all on record opposing therapeutic cloning.

“By supporting this initiative, the governor has broken faith with the tens of thousands of pro-life volunteers around the state who helped elect him,” Missouri Right to Life said in a statement. “He has broken his pledge not to support using public money to pay for cloning or embryonic stem cell research. He has broken his pledge not to allow any research that uses human embryos created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF). He has reversed his campaign position stated to Missouri Right to Life of opposing cloning, whether it is therapeutic cloning or reproductive cloning. He can no longer be considered a pro-life official.”

So far, embryonic stem cells have produced no treatments for human beings, while non-embryonic stem cells (adult stem cells) have provided therapies for such ailments as spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.
— With reporting by Michael Foust and Allen Palmeri.

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