The Word Game is Up; Time for a True Cloning Ban
by Colleen Carroll Campbell
Given their victories in recent years, Missouri's biotech barons should have spent 2007 celebrating. Repeated efforts by state lawmakers to enact a cloning ban had succumbed to defeat, thanks largely to biotech-friendly Governor Matt Blunt. And last fall, biotech leaders had pre-empted those legislative threats by mounting a successful campaign to carve special protection for research cloning into the state constitution.
Their victory with Amendment Two did not come easily. The argument that has persuaded many voters to overcome ethical qualms about embryonic stem cell research -- that embryos used in such research already exist and may be discarded anyway -- does not apply to embryos created through cloning. Voters tend to bristle at the prospect of manufacturing embryonic human clones for the express purpose of dismembering and destroying them.
But the cloning of embryos appeals to researchers who no longer want to be limited to extracting stem cells from adult or umbilical cord tissue or from embryos created through in-vitro fertilization. Cloning promises a virtually unlimited supply of human embryos to be stripmined for their stem cells, as long as enough women can be induced to donate their eggs.
To protect research cloning without arousing voter ire, Amendment Two's authors bucked the scientific establishment's commonly accepted definition of human cloning as the creation of a cloned human embryo through Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer -- the process used to create Dolly the Sheep. Instead, they defined cloning as the implantation of that cloned embryo into a uterus. So the amendment banned reproductive cloning while making the cloning and destruction of human embryos for research a constitutional right.
Despite a campaign budget of nearly $30 million and a 96-word ballot summary that made no mention of the controversial cloning definition buried in its nearly 2,000 words of fine print, Amendment Two barely squeaked to passage. When it did, backers hailed its 51 percent victory margin as evidence that Missouri's cloning wars were over.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Brave New World: The 49 percent of voters who opposed Amendment Two did not disperse as ordered. Awakened to the dangerous mix of money, media spin and scientific illiteracy that had allowed Big Biotech to sell its phony cloning ban, they began clamoring for the real thing.
Grassroots groups that had opposed Amendment Two continued meeting. Physicians and feminists who had warned that the exorbitant number of eggs needed for cloning could lead to women's exploitation continued speaking out. Bioethicists reminded the public that destroying a cloned embryo rather than allowing it to be born does not erase the ethical consequences of human cloning.
Last week, an umbrella group called Cures without Cloning launched a bid to close the cloning loophole created by Amendment Two. Its initiative, aimed at the November 2008 ballot, would not repeal Amendment Two or outlaw all embryonic stem cell research. It simply would allow Missouri to join other states that have banned human cloning by defining it the way most medical and scientific journals and popular publications do: as the creation of a cloned human embryo.
Amendment Two's champions now are in the awkward position of arguing against a cloning ban that does what their amendment only purported to do. Caught in a Catch-22 of their own making, they have resorted to grousing about their opponents' disingenuousness -- a comical charge, given their own track record.
Maybe another multimillion-dollar ad blitz will allow Big Biotech and its civic boosters to squelch this latest grassroots uprising. But another could soon take its place, fueled by still more Missourians who believe our constitution is no place to play word games.
-- Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.
Orginially published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, publication date: August 30, 2007, published here with author's permission.
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