Politics & Policy

Meet the Cloners

Who's behind Missouri's Amendment 2.

Tomorrow’s election results on Missouri’s Amendment 2 will set the national tone for the Brave New World issue of whether our law and policy will sanction the creation of human lives to be used as raw material for science experiments. What’s often lost in this debate is the identity of the people who use the hype of medical utopia in their attempt to convince citizens that they’re banning human cloning, when in fact they’d be constitutionally protecting it. It’s time to meet the cloners.

And, by the way, yes, Amendment 2 is about human cloning. As scores of scientists and bioethicists have made perfectly clear, “the people of Missouri should know what they are actually voting on. Amendment 2 creates a constitutional right for researchers to engage in human cloning. Efforts to deny this are misleading and deceptive.”

So who exactly are the cloners? As part of the January 2006 litigation on behalf of Missourians Against Human Cloning, our legal team took the depositions of the medical experts who support Amendment 2. One of the experts was none other than Dr. Doug Melton, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute scientist who testified to his efforts to obtain his university’s permission to start a project to clone human embryos for embryonic-stem-cell research.

The Harvard human-embryo-cloning project was approved this summer. Rather than seeking to clone a human embryo in order to birth a child, Doug Melton and his Harvard colleagues hope at this point to clone human embryos for destructive embryonic-stem-cell research. In a refreshing display of candor, the June 6, 2006 issue of the Harvard Gazette explained the nature of the controversy over using the cloning procedure of somatic-cell nuclear transfer: 

Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer involves . . . the creation of an embryo genetically identical to the donor of the nuclei. . . . Research involving human embryonic stem cells is controversial because extracting the cells – which can differentiate into any cell or tissue type in the body – requires the destruction of a human embryo. . . . 

In addition to Doug Melton, the Harvard cloning project is also headed by a young scientist named Kevin Eggan, whose work is being funded to the tune of $6 million dollars over five years by Jim and Virginia Stowers, the same couple that has spent over $28 million in their attempt to buy the Amendment 2 constitutional right to clone.  The Harvard Gazette reported on Mr. Stowers’s statement that “he and his wife decided to fund stem cell research at Harvard, rather than at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, in Kansas City, Mo., because of threats in the Missouri legislature to ban stem cell research.”

Of course, “stem cell research,” which includes the only effective human treatments using stem cells from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood, was never under threat of a legislative ban; rather the legislation sought to ban cloning human embryos for any reason — both cloning to produce children and cloning for biomedical research. This type of comprehensive cloning-ban legislation is already the law in seven other states and scores of non-conservative nations including Canada, France, and Germany who know bad science when they see it. But it’s very definitely not what Missouri voters are faced with Tuesday.

Even without Amendment 2, embryonic-stem-cell research is already taking place in Missouri.  The scientist leading the embryonic-stem-cell-research team at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Dr. Michael Roberts, candidly explains that passage or failure of Amendment 2 is “not going to affect my research.” Dr. Roberts’s team uses the federally funded embryonic-stem-cell lines approved by President Bush in August 2001. Those lines were obtained from IVF embryos that had already been destroyed. President Bush, like Senator Talent, has consistently opposed federal funding for the further destruction of human embryos whether created in fertility clinics or in future cloning labs. And Dr. Roberts, described by his colleagues as “responsible and level-headed,” states that he’s “happy enough just using the [Bush] cell lines.”

That brings us back to the cloners who aren’t happy enough at all. It seems that selling a constitutional right to clone in Missouri just isn’t as easy as it was in California a couple of years ago. This has led to a spin campaign of epic proportions, which consistently hides the “cloning” word. One of their latest tactics is to hide behind the Missouri court rulings. However, the fact is that Missouri courts have never approved the deceptively incomplete definition of human cloning contained in Amendment 2

The January legal challenge, entitled Missourians Against Human Cloning v. Robin Carnahan, sought only to have the court order that the misleading ballot summary be revised to clarify that Amendment 2 “bans cloning to produce children, and allows cloning for biomedical research.” The Missouri courts declined to clarify the 100-word ballot summary, stating that the merits of this issue would have to be parsed out in the political process. The appellate court explained:   

In effect, Appellants want us to revise the summary to highlight the underlying controversy surrounding the merits of the initiative. Resolution of that controversy must be left to the political process. . . . We decline to choose between the two definitions.   

This is consistent with the trial court’s oral ruling that “if you disagree with the conclusions that are in [the Amendment], those are issues that you bring up with your own constituents in your own political process.”

So the courts have left it up to the citizens of the great Show-Me State to use the power of the political process to decipher the tricky legalese that enshrines three explosive deceptions: the practice of cloning human lives for the purpose of their destruction, the practice of harvesting massive amounts of eggs from our daughters with the use of dangerous super-ovulatory drugs, and a quiet little clause or two that opens the door to massive amounts of tax-payer funding to benefit the people that do the cloning. You can see these provisions for yourself here.

You might want to view tomorrow’s voting booth like a time machine if you dare to take a look ahead. Once a constitutional right to clone human embryos for their destruction in research is allowed to coarsen the conscience of our nation, then it won’t be long until the predictions of Missouri’s expert witness come to pass. Take a look at what Harvard’s leading cloning specialist had to say in Discovery magazine’s August 2005 article entitled “Doug Melton: Crossing Boundaries”: 

So now let’s look ahead: Fast-forward two generations from now, and I will contend that it will be possible, by medical advances, to make cloning a child by nuclear transfer safer than natural childbirth – that the cloned embryos will have a defect rate of less than 1%. 

You’ve met the cloners, Missouri. Remember their words when you enter the voting booth tomorrow. If we truly value human equality, there is nothing more important than man remaining the master, not the product, of our technology.

 – Nikolas T. Nikas and Dorinda C. Bordlee are the founders of Bioethics Defense Fund, a public-interest law firm that advocates for human rights from beginning to end. They were lead trial counsel for the plaintiff in Missourians Against Human Cloning v. Carnahan.