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Going Out With a Bang


The 2008 Republican Platform Committee has finally reached the finish line, but before it crossed it tripped up on the issue of stem-cell research. When the committee reached the stem-cell language, North Carolina delegate Mary Summa offered what appeared on the surface to be a small change. Summa sought to change the sentence:

We call for a ban on human cloning and a ban on the creation of and experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.

to read:

We call for a ban on human cloning and a ban on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.

thus severing experimentation on human embryos from their creation for that purpose. It’s just one word, but it has huge implications. It is a call for a total ban on embryonic stem-cell research, including privately funded research using frozen embryos from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. By contrast, the 2004 platform was in accord with President Bush’s policy at the time, which made limited federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research available for the first time.

In introducing her amendment, Summa gave an emotional speech in which she said, “I want my five children to live in a world where the weak are protected from the strong. I want them to live in a world where all life is protected.”

The amendment drew opposition from Indiana delegate and pro-life activist James Bopp Jr. “The sentence now in the draft, which ties the creation to the experimentation, is exactly right,” Bopp said. He argued that the amendment would declare off-limits certain types of life-saving therapeutic research he supports.

Bopp’s objection was itself objected to by several delegates who supported the amendment. Then Summa asked Bopp point-blank, “Under the current language in this document, does this mean that you can experiment on human embryos that are frozen in IVF clinics?”

Bopp answered, “The way I read this sentence is that it does have limited application. It does not call for a ban on everything that I might support. The amendment that has been put forward would ban not only the type of research that I oppose, but also the types of therapeutic research I have described.”

He added, “We should not be in the business of prohibiting therapeutic research.”

At this point, Kansas delegate Kris Kobach offered an amendment to Summa’s amendment that would have replaced the words “experimentation on” with “destruction of.” Committee co-chairman Sen. Richard Burr asked Summa if she would accept the change. She replied, “I certainly would accept the amendment, but the former prosecutor in me would like Mr. Bopp to answer my question.”

Bopp quipped, “The defense attorney in me would say I have answered her question.”

Bopp then offered his own amendment to Summa’s amendment. At this point Burr broke it up. He instructed Summa, Bopp and Kobach to confer until they had come up with a single amendment on stem-cells. The committee then moved on to other matters.

When the three of them returned, Summa’s eyes were red and swollen. She re-submitted her original amendment, without modification. Burr called for a vote, and the motion passed.

The 2008 Republican Platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private.


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