Politics & Policy

Third Clone War

Missouri measure would repeal "right to clone."

The battle in Missouri over cloning did not end when Amendment 2 — the ballot measure that guaranteed scientists’ right to clone for the purpose of doing embryonic stem-cell research — won a contentious fight last November. Leaders of the newly formed coalition Missouri Cures Without Cloning (MCWC) appeared yesterday at a Jefferson City press conference to announce the filing of a state constitutional amendment for the 2008 ballot, which would ban all human cloning in the state, including the cloning of human embryos for their stem cells.

“The vast majority of Missourians are in favor of research that does not include human cloning,” says Dr. Lori Buffa, a pediatrician from St. Peters, Missouri, who has volunteered to serve as MCWC’s chairwoman. “This initiative is very simple, very straightforward, and the wording is very clear. This is intended to ensure that cures are developed without human-cloning experimentation in our state.”

The 183-word measure, should it pass next fall, would ban (and ban state funding for) human somatic-cell nuclear transfer — the use of the cloning process that scientists used to produce “Dolly,” the sheep, on humans. It does not repeal last year’s Amendment 2, but it reverses the measure’s “right to clone,” a necessary element of embryonic stem-cell research and of any therapies it may someday produce decades from now.

If the ballot language is approved, supporters will begin gathering 200,000 signatures to place it on the 2008 ballot.

Pyrrhic Victory

The new measure comes as the political value of embryonic research for the Left has been thrown into question. This issue was supposed to be a great wedge, a gay-marriage equivalent for the Democratic party. Even if it had never demonstrated any therapeutic value, the political value of embryonic research was unquestionable. It was to cause fractures among Republicans and produce sweeping majorities for Democrats in future elections.

In 2004, a California ballot measure produced $3 billion for cloning and related research (10 percent of which was to go to real-estate investments). That success emboldened supporters to push the issue nearly everywhere — in Congress and in all 50 states — and Democrats nationwide were supposed to reap the political benefits of dividing the Right.

But then there was an unexpected failure in Missouri.

To be sure, human-cloning experimentation did succeed there at the ballot box in 2006. Voters passed Amendment 2, a measure that actually created a constitutional right to clone human embryos for the purpose of scientific research through somatic cell nuclear transfer.

In working toward this goal, Amendment 2 supporters convinced Missouri’s courts that the scientific definition of cloning is not really “cloning” at all. This let them preserve the deceptive ballot language in the 2,200 word amendment, ensuring confusion in the state’s voting booths about whether their measure actually encouraged or banned human cloning. Supporters of Amendment 2 spent over $30 million (nearly all of it coming from one family), outmatching their opponents ten-to-one. They ran a public information campaign that made empty threats (that Missouri could miss out on jobs and new cures) and empty promises (that those afflicted with degenerative diseases would benefit right away).

But for all that, Amendment 2 won by just 50,000 votes, out of more than 2 million cast. As Missourians learned more about the measure, its support dropped from 67 percent a few months out to par on Election Day. In the nine months since, the right to clone human embryos has not resulted in the revenue stream from state coffers that had been expected to fund the research. The main anticipated recipient of that money — the Stowers Institute in Kansas City — cancelled plans this summer to expand, and moved about half of its endowment money out of state, citing a “hostile” political environment.

One stem-cell “entrepreneur,” who had been hoping to set up another facility and possibly get his hands on Missouri taxpayers’ money, told the Los Angeles Times this month, “It’s as though Amendment 2 never passed.”

The Springfield, Missouri, News-Leader observed in an editorial that “passing Amendment 2 actually strengthened the resolve of the pro-life lobby in Missouri, and state lawmakers responded to the passing of the Amendment with a series of actions that actually make the state all but closed for life-sciences research.”

Some Republicans in the state fear the possible effect of having an anti-cloning amendment on the ballot this year. “This issue really stresses our base and creates unbelievable pressures between our pro-life supporters and our business supporters,” said one Republican official, who voted no on Amendment 2 and will likely vote for this new measure. “It’s just a no-win for our team.”

But Missourians could be the ones who prove that embryonic stem-cell issue is not the political boon the Left had expected.

— David Freddoso is a National Review Online staff reporter.

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