Complex issue

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stem-cell research was hotly debated last week as President Bush used his veto power for the first time. The federal debate is over the use of government funds for stem-cell research -- a distinction often lost in the barrage of words. While federal laws do not limit stem-cell research, they do restrict which studies can receive taxpayer dollars.

Adding to the confusion in Missouri is a separate statewide issue, the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which will be on the Nov. 7 ballot. Supporters of this initiative -- an amendment to the Missouri Constitution -- list three main aims:

1. Allow Missourians access to any federally approved stem-cell cures. 2. Ensure that medical institutions in the state can participate in stem-cell research. 3. Ban human cloning, among other ethical restraints.

The president's veto of bills that would have expanded federal funding for stem-cell research was a clear indication of the administration's strong objections on moral and ethical grounds. In Missouri, proponents of the constitutional amendment fear the state might restrict all stem-cell research. Several legislators have introduced bills to make such research a felony.

The fallout, say proponents of expanding federal funding for stem-cell research, has multiple consequences. Not only are patients with diseases related to stem-cell studies being cut off from the benefits of such research, but companies and research institutions are prevented from participating in what could be the next frontier to be overcome by medical science.

It is the mix of science and religion that is creating so much confusion in stem-cell discussions. And both sides have engaged in various forms of hyperbole to make their arguments, leaving ordinary voters like those in Missouri wondering why there is such a gulf between the various claims.

As the November election draws nearer, expect to see a storm of information from both camps aimed at either passage or defeat of the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. Voters will have to sift through a barrage of claims and counter-claims. They will need to examine their own moral thinking. And they will have to decide whether potential cures -- something almost everyone favors -- are outweighed by religious views -- something most Missourians take seriously.

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