Like state, area split on stem cells

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Southeast Missourian

Local voices taking part in the stem-cell research debate mirror the split statewide over Amendment 2, the highest-profile issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Supporters highlight the hope embryonic stem-cell research raises to find cures for some of the most debilitating diseases afflicting humans. Opponents base much of their opposition in their moral standards, questioning the ethics of destroying a potential human life at one of its earliest stages to better the lives of others.

For months, supporters have poured millions of dollars into the passage effort, using mass mailings and televised ads to sway the electorate. Opponents, while more poorly funded, have fought back with ads of their own and rallies led by conservative church leaders.

In the Cape Girardeau region, both sides have relied on generating local activists to put a human face on their message. Wheelchair-bound Jim Trickey, who has traveled twice to China for treatments unavailable in the United States, spent time during the SEMO District Fair promoting Amendment 2.

Trickey is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Originally diagnosed in 2002, Trickey has lost most of the use of his arms and legs.

He and his wife, Brandy, said they realize help from embryonic stem-cell research is years away for ALS patients. "Passing this amendment now won't save him now," Brandy Trickey said. "But it will save somebody else."

Opponents, they said, are letting religion and politics get in the way of science. "It should be, instead of a moral issue, a scientific one," he said.

Taking the time to read about the issue will convince undecided voters, he said. "I would say for them to do the research and make an educated decision by looking at both sides," Jim Trickey said. "That is the best you can ask for."

To combat the progress of ALS, which is marked by muscular degeneration that leaves the brain unaffected, Trickey traveled to China for treatment with cells from the olfactory bulbs of aborted fetuses. The cells implanted in Trickey are not stem cells. "I think, if anything, it has helped to slow the progress," Jim Trickey said.

Amendment 2 would protect Missouri researchers working with stem cells from legislative attempts to restrict the scope of their experiments. The amendment allows any research legal under federal law and allows the creation of cloned embryos for research into cures. The Missouri Legislature would be barred from taking money away from research projects just because privately funded stem-cell research is being conducted at the same research facility.

Amendment 2 bans attempts to create a living cloned human, imposing penalties of up to 15 years for anyone attempting to implant a cloned embryo in a woman's uterus or conducting research aimed at making such implantation possible.

Dr. Michael Wulfers is one of Cape Girardeau's most outspoken opponents of Amendment 2. By his own count, he's made presentations at about 20 events, bringing detailed scientific information about the earliest stages of life.

Wulfers became active in the opposition to Amendment 2 after the Missouri State Medical Association endorsed the measure. The endorsement was made by the association's state convention, not by a poll of members, he noted.

"I know more about stem-cell research now than I ever wanted to know," Wulfers said.

He said he sees "five deceptions" in the text of the amendment. The cloning ban, he said, makes a false distinction between cloning for research and cloning to create a living human. Other problems with the amendment, he said, include what he sees as the lack of ethical review of the research and potential backdoor methods of paying women for eggs.

"The cruelest deception of all is the deception of miracle cures," he said. "They are using the people of Missouri who have diseases and disabilities and giving them false hopes."

Wulfers bases his opposition in his concept of life and the moral question that everyone must encounter as they consider their vote. "We are arguing the definition of a person," Wulfers said.

A fertilized egg, or zygote, is genetically directed from the beginning to form into a living human, he said. The same is true of a zygote formed by replacing the DNA in the nucleus with the genetic material from another human being.

"If it is not a person at conception, then the definition of a person is entirely arbitrary," he said.

Another view of the moral question says that growing an embryo in a laboratory to generate a line of stem cells is far different from an embryo in a womb, said the Rev. Bob Towner, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church.

"A human life has a past as well as a future," he said. "There was no past for these" embryos "in the union of a husband and a wife. There is no future in the division of these cells as a human life."

The potential to relieve disease is a high moral calling, Towner said. "We have a moral responsibility to act in the best of our knowledge and within the limits of our resources to alleviate human suffering."

335-6611, extension 126

On the Net

For the full text of Amendment 2:

Supporters of Amendment 2:

Opponents of Amendment 2:

Amendment 2 Q&A

Some basic questions and answers on Amendment 2, commonly called the Stem Cell Initiative.

Q. What are stem cells?

A. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the potential to either divide to form more stem cells or transform into cells performing a specific biological function.

Q. Is there a difference between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells?

A. Yes. Stem cells from adults generally are taken from specific tissues, such as the liver or muscle, and can generate themselves only into cells of that particular tissue. Embryonic stem cells are taken from the undifferentiated mass of cells that has formed four or five days after fertilization and have the potential to become a cell in any organ of the body.

Q. Are there any cures from embryonic stem cells?

A. No, but some scientists view embryonic stem cells as providing the greatest hope for such cures because they have more potential. Adult stem cells are rare within the tissues of the body and are difficult to isolate and grow in the laboratory. More extensive research with adult stem cells has led to the development of potential treatments. Chinese scientists are experimenting with embryonic stem-cell treatments, but the results are inconclusive.

Q. What is cloning?

A. A clone is a genetic copy of an organism. Reproductive cloning is the use of cloning techniques to create a living organism. Therapeutic cloning is the use of cloning techniques to create stem-cell lines for use in research and possible treatments.

Q. Does Amendment 2 ban cloning?

A. Amendment 2 bans reproductive cloning, which is legal under current Missouri law. It includes a definition of cloning that excludes therapeutic cloning to allow research using cloned embryos.

Q. Does Amendment 2 require the state to fund embryonic stem-cell research?

A. No. Initiative petitions in Missouri are barred from requiring the expenditure of any revenue not raised by the initiative itself. Amendment 2 does not raise any revenue. Amendment 2 does bar the Missouri Legislature from withholding money being spent on other research programs at a facility that also performs stem-cell research.

Q. Will women be paid to provide their eggs for research?

A. A woman who donates eggs may be reimbursed for wages lost during the donation process, but may not realize a net financial gain from the donation. If the donated eggs or embryos come from a fertility clinic and are obtained for the original purpose of treating infertility, the payments to the donors do not violate the provision against donors profiting from their donation.

SOURCE: American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Kansas University Medical Center and the text of Amendment 2.

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