Stem cells … Proponents distort what Amendment 2 says and means

Friday, September 15, 2006

By A.F. Kertz

It is troubling to see families such as the Hrabiks (Sept. 7 op-ed column) who have been swayed by proponents of Amendment 2 to believe the hope not merited by the hype of embryonic stem-cell research. Let's address key areas.

Here is the official definition of somatic cell nuclear transfer from the authoritative Steadman's Medical Dictionary: SCNT is the placement of any body (somatic) cell nucleus into an egg (ovum) where the natural nucleus has been removed. This results in the creation of a cloned human being at the embryonic stage.

Dr. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who first successfully isolated human embryonic stem-cell lines in 1998, has described the redefinition of cloning used by proponents of Amendment 2 as disingenuous.

Dr. William Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City and Dr. William Danforth of Washington University in St. Louis publicly acknowledged and recommended this disingenuous language in a letter to the journal Science (Sept. 16, 2005).

The definition of cloning in Amendment 2 is not on the ballot page but is found in the pages following that you will not see in the voting booth. The Amendment 2 redefinition of cloning means not allowing an embryo to be implanted in the uterus for purposes of a live birth. So the embryo in the blastocyst stage (5 to 7 days of age), when embryonic stem-cells are extracted which kills the embryo, either has to be killed so it cannot be implanted or it could be grown in the uterus for fetal parts but not allowed to be born. This is macabre.

The method used to produce a human being by cloning would be SCNT, as this is the method used to clone all animal species that have been cloned successfully beginning with the sheep Dolly in 1997. While primates, including humans, have not been successfully cloned yet, this cloning would be done with SCNT using the nucleus from any adult or somatic cell in a human donor's body. This nucleus would provide the 46 human chromosomes which we would otherwise get from 23 chromosomes in the sperm and 23 chromosomes in the egg in sexual reproduction. In either case, from cloning by SCNT or by sexual reproduction, at day one there exists the one-cell zygote which is a self-developing human being with its full genetic base. It no longer is a "fertilized egg."

This stage is a clear line of demarcation, for a self-developing human being does not exist before conception or inception by cloning, but does exist afterwards as a zygote on its way along the continuum of human life. And if this were not a human being, it would not have human embryonic stem cells that the researchers want to use.

Proponents of Amendment 2 love to misquote opponents on the subject of adult stem-cell therapy or otherwise denigrate or deny what is being accomplished. There are more than 70 diseases that have been clinically treated with adult stem-cell therapy. Of these diseases, nine have had certified cures.

Clinical trials have stringent standards that must be met before they can be conducted. At present, there are more than 1,200 clinical trials with adult stem cells in progress in the United States, which is nearly a doubling since last year. While adult stem-cell research and therapy is around 50 years old -- this includes animal research preceding human research -- proponents of Amendment 2 conveniently ignore that the animal embryonic stem-cell research stage began nearly 25 years ago and preceded the 1998 initiation of human embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem-cell research has not progressed beyond the research stage, where embryonic stem cells produce teratomas -- tumors of all kinds of cells since scientists do not know how to control embryonic stem-cell differentiation into a myriad of different tissues.

In the June 17, 2005, issue of Science, two bio-ethicists from Stanford University addressed major limitations of embryonic stem-cell research: 1. institutional research oversight; 2. nonmedical oocyte (egg) donation; and 3. misconceptions of therapeutic use. They strongly stated that there is no "therapeutic" use of embryonic stem cells, and this is "misleading donors and subjects into believing that research is therapy. ... Also, it is nearly certain that the clinical benefits of the research are years or maybe decades away. This is a message that desperate families and patients will not want to hear."

Late last year, those concerns were realized in the Korean hoax, which claimed to have cloned human embryos and developed embryonic stem-cell lines from them. A total of 119 women "donated" 2,221 eggs. Many were paid. Some were coerced. And the medical complication rate for these women was 20 percent. Many young women will need to be superovulated to provide the eggs needed for cloning as embryos in fertility clinics would be but a drop in the bucket of what would be needed for embryonic stem-cell research.

Amendment 2 has a large loophole in which fertility clinics will be the "middleman" to allow the claim that women would not be paid by researchers for their eggs. And rather conveniently for researchers, only the attorney general of the state of Missouri could bring civil action with a maximum of $50,000 in damages for women due to superovulation. Why should the researchers be virtually absolved of liability while women may suffer or die -- 25 have so far -- from this method?

Where is the $16 million last reported for the Amendment 2 campaign coming from? Well, $15.4 million came from one couple, James and Virginia Stowers, the establishers of the Stowers Medical Research Institute in Kansas City. The second leading donor is Dr. William Danforth of Washington University in St. Louis. Both of these private institutions would be the beneficiaries of Amendment 2 and its potential public funding and patent and licensing rights to embryonic stem-cell lines. Adult stem cells cannot be patented. Follow the money.

I would love to debate this issue with proponents of Amendment 2, but so far there are no takers.

Lastly, Amendment 2 is replete with duplicity. (For a full accounting see Why? Because, for example, they know that 90 percent of Missourians oppose cloning. So redefine cloning and claim to ban it.

And did you know that the Missouri secretary of state's office has identified 45 sections of the Missouri Constitution that would be modified or overridden by this pre-eminent Amendment 2? No one yet has identified how many state statutes would be nullified or modified.

Even supporters of embryonic stem-cell research have reasons to vote against Amendment 2 as it would be bad public policy.

A.F. Kertz, who has a doctorate in animal nutrition, resides in Glendale, Mo. He is the founder and principal of ANDHIL in St. Louis, and is a public policy member of the Missouri Catholic Conference.

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