Stem cell research funding debate hits the states

Missouri legislator proposes constitutional change aimed at banning public dollars for stem cell research

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.—Since President Barack Obama liftedfederal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research March 9, statewideconservative politicians and right-wing legislators have renewed efforts tooppose the controversial research—all in the name of protecting the family andsaving taxpayers money.
 
Although many states have followed suit and lifted bansagainst funding stem cell research, Missouri legislators seek to undo a 2006amendment to its state constitution that allowed public funding of it.
 
In December, Missouri Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallonpre-filed House Joint Resolution 49, which adds a new section to the "Missouritaxpayer protection initiative" to be placed on the November ballot. At presstime, the bill was scheduled to be introduced Jan. 6, when the 95th GeneralAssembly convenes in Jefferson City.
 

The resolution states, "it shall be unlawful (in the stateof Missouri) to expend, pay or grant any public funds for abortion notmedically necessary to save the life of the mother, for abortion services, forhuman cloning or for prohibited human research."
 
 
Davis believes she has the necessary General Assembly andvoter support to push the proposal through its passage.
 
 
"I've spoken to a lot of my constituents who are in favor ofthis bill," Davis says.
Just in case, Davis explained her position in a reportmailed to voters, entitled "Life Matters," which read in part:
 
 
"During economically depressed times, it is moreimportant than ever to protect the taxpayers. The state government's budget isabout 11 percent below projection for this year. Rather than seeing this as anegative, this is a great opportunity to reprioritize. We need to clarify whatis important and what is not.
 
 
"This resolution allows the voters to decide if they wanttheir public tax dollars funding abortion, cloning and human experimentationwith living embryos that have been relinquished by their parents. 
 
"
The amendment does not stop controversial research. Itonly restricts who pays for the kind of research that violates the consciencesof those who believe in the dignity of human life … This proposal will notaffect those who want to perform abortions, human cloning and experimentationon frozen human beings whose parents have signed them away. It merely requiresquestionable research to be funded with private money.
  
"The proposed constitutional amendment has the potentialof saving the state from squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on projectsthat may lead to a dead end. If this research is viable and based uponpromising results, it is capable of developing through business capital andentrepreneurship without consuming public money. The laboratories studyingcures through adult stem cell research are already finding success. Why not workon projects that are humane, wholesome and do not harm the consciences ofscientists or taxpayers?
 
 
"Protecting human life is a very progressive and nobleposition to take. It is not appropriate for us to presume that all scientistswant to do abortions and human embryo experimentation. Why let those who wantto destroy innocent human life perform these acts in a state that respects anddignifies life?"
 
 
Among Davis' detractors is the Missouri BiotechnologyAssociation (MOBIO), a nonprofit trade association dedicated to development andgrowth of the Missouri biotechnology and biomedical industry, which does notsee Davis' proposal as a serious threat.
 
 
"We are historically quite concerned when these types of newresearch restrictions are threatened, as it does negatively impact Missouri'spro-research national image, which the top scientists do pay attention to whenthey consider relocating or taking a position with one of our tier-one worldclass research companies or institutions," says Kelley Gillespie, an MOBIOspokesperson. "MOBIO's political analysis of this particular filed legislationis such that we don't see it as a credible threat for 2010, that the supermajority of Missouri's legislative members will not follow Rep. Davis' lead onthis topic, and it is considered—amongst the nearly 2000 bills that will befiled in the 2010 session—one that most observers will categorize as fairlyfringe to the central issues that must be dealt with, balancing the statebudget and empowering the state with new economic development initiatives thatare technology- and science-based.
 
 
Missouri's legislative leaders, on a bipartisan basis, areheaded in a different direction in leading the state than where Rep Davis'focus is, Gillespie says. 
 
 
"The stem cell issue was battled out in 2006 in Missouri,and freedom to conduct ethical research is now protected in our stateconstitution, placed there by a majority of Missouri voters, directly,"Gillespie says. "There is a very high hurdle for Rep Davis or any anti-stemcell legislator to change the constitutional protections. One or even a largernumber of legislators cannot do so unilaterally ... at worst, if thelegislature were to pass something onerous, it would then have to go theadditional step of being presented to a statewide vote."
 
 
Within Missouri's Constitution, freedom to research isprotected, she says. Davis' approach is to "chisel away with a broad definitionof public funding which goes well beyond simply stopping state appropriations,"she adds.
 
Jim Greenwood, CEO of the Biotechnology IndustryOrganization (BIO), an advocate for those involved in the research anddevelopment of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial andenvironmental biotechnology technologies, says, "research on both adult andembryonic stem cells holds great promise to produce new therapies and possiblycures for the millions of patients in the U.S. and around the world sufferingfrom cancer, diabetes, Alzheimers's, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries andother life-threatening diseases and conditions."
 
 
Writing for News, Politics, Science & Technology, Chad Garrison asks, "So, what is it that Davis isprotecting taxpayers from? The legislation—which would have to be approved byvoters in a general election—would change Article III of the MissouriConstitution to make it unlawful for the state to use funds for abortions(other than those that would save the life of the mother), abortion services,human cloning and 'prohibited human research'" Garrison writes.
 
"Prohibited human research, as described in the legislation,is anything that takes organs, tissues or cellular material of any living ordead child," he writes. "Davis defines a 'child' as a 'human being recognizedas a minor pursuant to the laws of this state, including if in vivo, an unborn child, and if in vitro, a human being at any of the stages of biologicaldevelopment of an unborn child from conception or inception onward.'
 
"It's the 'in vitro'clause that scares stem-cell researchers," Garrison says. "Under Davis' definition,a 'child' would include fertilized eggs from a fertility clinic that have neverbeen implanted as well as embryos created with an unfertilized egg throughother means. In other words, the bill would seriously hamper stem cell researchin Missouri."
 
 
Jim Goodwin, spokesman for Missouri Coalition for LifeSaving Cures, sent an e-mail warning that Davis' proposed legislation is"essentially the same" ballot initiative that Missouri Roundtable for Lifesubmitted to the Secretary of State's Office earlier this year.
 
"Roundtable withdrew the ballot initiative last month, eventhough in October, the group was given the green-light to begin collectingsignatures," Goodwin said in the e-mail. "Rep. Davis is now using HJR 49 topush the ballot proposal."
 
In October, State Auditor Susan Montee's office released areport on the economic impact of the ballot initiative proposed by MissouriRoundtable.
 
 
"This proposal could have a significant negative fiscalimpact on state and local governmental entities by prohibiting the use ofpublic funds for certain research activities," the report states. "Federalgrants to state governmental entities for research and medical assistanceprograms may be in jeopardy. The total costs to state and local governmentalentities are unknown."
 
Kenneth C. Aldrich, chairman of the International Stem CellCorp., based in Oceanside, Calif., says Davis' bill "would have no measurableaffect on International Stem Cell," which produces and sells specialized cellsand growth media worldwide for therapeutic research. "In general, attempts toban stem cell research usually result from either an opposition to the use ofhuman embryos (the source of what are called "embryonic stem cells") or from amisguided fear that stem cell research will result in the cloning of humans forbody parts or some other purpose."
 
 
No serious effort is being made anywhere in the U.S. to usestem cells for that purpose, Aldrich says, adding that all a total ban on stemcell research does is drive quality scientists out of the state, usually takingjobs with them, and assures the next major scientific breakthrough occurssomewhere else in the world.
 
 
"However, we understand the religious concerns that causesome people to be concerned about using human embryos to create embryonic stemcells," Aldrich says. "Whether one agrees or disagrees, that opposition isbased on serious religious concerns."
 
International Stem Cell has created an alternative thatappears to have all the benefits of embryonic stem cells—but does not requirethe use of a fertilized human embryo, he says.
 
"It's called Parthenogenesis and results in stem cell linesthat can become any cell in the human body, but are created from anunfertilized egg, using a process that can neither create nor destroy a viablehuman embryo or fetus," Aldrich says. "Our lines also have the unique abilityto reduce or eliminate the need for immune suppression drugs for hundreds ofmillions of potential patients who might otherwise not be able to use cellbased therapy."


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