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Lutheran Aardvark

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21 October 2006
  Knowing Jack About Stem Cells
A Response to Senator Danforth on Amendment 2 and Cloning

Doctors and nurses, sufferers and survivors ... anyone living in Missouri or one of the surrounding states receiving its radio and television signals is getting not only the election year candidate ads but also an unrelenting stream of these advocates for Amendment 2. Years after moving away, Cheryl Crow returned, trying to convince voters that cancers like the one she battled might be cured by embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Health care workers keep weighing in with their opinions — seemingly grounding them as much in speculation as in science.

John DanforthHowever, the most constant voice remains Senator Father John Claggett "Jack" Danforth, the honorary co-chair of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. His rumbling delivery, folksy, yet polished by years of speaking as both a politician and an Episcopal priest, encourages everyone who is "pro-life" to join him in supporting the amendment. While a recent spot engages in a bit of "negative campaigning" — wherein he chastizes those who dare to speak against Amendment 2 — Danforth has mainly stuck to the mantra that Two is good, life-promoting, and anti-cloning.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Roundtable for Life provides A Word-By-Word Critique Of The So-Called “Missouri Stem Cell Research And Cures Initiative”. Missourians Against Human Cloning and the related 2Tricky.org also engage in extended political and legal criticism of Amendment 2.

In the religious arena, the opposition also continues. Among Lutherans, the November online edition of the Reporter Online from the LCMS includes commentary devoted to clearing the confusion surrounding stem cell research. This followed President Kieshnick's letter from earlier this week and the excellent 2005 report of Synod's CTCR, Christian Faith and Human Beginnings: Christian Care and Pre-Implantation Human Life [PDF; 187kb, 52 pages], as well as other articles and position papers. Likewise, the Wisconsin Synod has spoken on the topic on several occasions.

Lutherans for Life includes a special page devoted to the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative with items for download (The "Deceitful Tongue" of the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative) and purchase (inexpensive and easily understood pamphlets on stem cells and cloning). Individual Lutherans are also mobilizing and responding. Among these, we note blogging Pastor Walter Snyder and his recent article Stem Cells and Clones.

Known for its long-standing pro-life positions, the Roman Catholic Church, especially Missouri's bishops, is also working against adoption of the amendment. Other churches opposing or harboring strong reservations concerning ESCR include the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Southern Baptist Convention. Non-church religious organizations against the amendment and ESCR include Concerned Women for America, the Christian Coalition, and Focus on the Family.

Some might also be persuaded by those who focus on the ethical components of life-issue debates without emphasizing any particular religious affiliation. Among these, the Vitae Caring Foundation stands out. They've launched a special page dedicated to the debate: Stem Cell Research Facts — a site I highly recommend for its gentle tone and low-jargon explanations of the issues.

MissouriContrary to what you will read from the above groups and individuals, we have the voices of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, particularly that of Senator Danforth. On one of his television spots, he flatly says that Amendment 2 "bans human cloning" — a statement in line with what the coalition and the Amendment seem to say. However, if you carefully read the text of Amendment 2 and compare it to some of the opponents' writings, you'll see that what the amendment actually does is redefine cloning to exclude the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) process. This is, by the way, the method used to clone the famous Dolly the Sheep.

With masterful double-speak, amendment supporters say that unless "cloned" material is actually implanted in a human uterus, "cloning" hasn't actually occurred. At best, the Missouri Coalition and Senator Danforth have adjusted the facts to fit their case. At worst, they're flat-out lying. The actual text of Amendment 2 [PDF] includes the following language. From section 2(1), we read, "No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being." Section 6(2) then says, "'Clone or attempt to clone a human being' means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being."

This all sounds good, but then we stumble across the references to SCNT. Section 6(5) says, "'Human embryonic stem cell research,' also referred to as 'early stem cell research,' means any scientific or medical research involving human stem cells derived from in vitro fertilization blastocysts or from somatic cell nuclear transfer. [emphasis added]" 6(13) adds this definition: "'Stem cell' means a cell that can divide multiple times and give rise to specialized cells in the body, and includes but is not limited to the stem cells generally referred to as (i) adult stem cells that are found in some body tissues (including but not limited to adult stem cells derived from adult body tissues and from discarded umbilical cords and placentas), and (ii) embryonic stem cells (including but not limited to stem cells derived from in vitro fertilization blastocysts and from cell reprogramming techniques such as somatic cell nuclear transfer). [emphasis added]"

So the amendment says that it will constituionally ban uterine implantation of bio-material created through SCNT. Yet the process of SCNT is absolutely necessary to carrying out the research called for by the amendment. And while the Missouri Coalition says that SCNT isn't cloning, the religious and political sites I've already noted say that it is.

CloningNow before you accuse this Aardvark of showing his own biases and basing all his arguments upon the testimony of friendly witnesses, let's call one more organization to testify. Indeed, this may be the most unbiased witness in the entire debate, since no one is going to accuse the National Institutes of Health of being a right-wing, conservative Christian, pro-life organization. Therefore, when the NIH Glossary of Stem Cell Information mentions somatic cells and SCNT, both sides should give serious credence to their definition: "Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)—A technique that combines an enucleated egg (nucleus removed) and the nucleus of a somatic cell to make an embryo. SCNT is the scientific term for cloning. SCNT can be used for therapeutic or reproductive purposes, but the initial stage that combines an enucleated egg and a somatic cell nucleus is the same. See also therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. [emphasis added]"

The American Heritage Dictionary, cited in Pastor Snyder's article says a clone is "A cell, group of cells, or organism that are descended from and genetically identical to a single common ancestor." The NIH says, "SCNT is the scientific term for cloning." Senator Danforth and the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures say that SCNT is not cloning and ignore the fact that the materials to be produced and studied will be "descended from and genetically identical to" the common ancestors from which the somatic cells will be taken.

So who knows "Jack" about stem cells and cloning? Either the LCMS, the WELS, Lutherans for Life, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Southern Baptist Convention, Missourians Against Human Cloning, the Missouri Roundtable for Life, Americans to Ban Cloning, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, the Vitae Caring Foundation, the Christian Coalition, National Right to Life, Ask the Pastor, and the United States' own National Institutes of Health are all wrong about human cloning or else we must disbelieve the words and the motives of Senator Danforth, the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, and the proposed Missouri Amendment 2. Whom do you believe? Which side do you think is lying to you?

With all this, we've only scratched the surface of possible arguments. Other objections parallel those that many people raise to abortion. In other words, if you believe that life begins at conception, then you must reject not only abortion, but much of Danforth's repetitive message. He claims, "My entire political career, I voted pro-life and that is exactly why I favor the Stem Cell Initiative. I believe in saving human life. [current radio ad]" Yet the ESCR called for by Amendment 2 — featuring tiny little embryos (or "blastocysts," if you will) of growing, developing human cells — will halt cell division (kill tiny little unborns) in the name of saving human beings fortunate enough to have emerged from their mothers' wombs.

Pro-ESCR people often ask us Christians how we can be truly pro-life and not support embryonic stem cell research and its possiblities of providing cures for diseases and injuries. We, in turn, must ask them how they can claim to be truly pro-life while arguing for the creation and destruction of human beings. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. [John 15:13 ESV]" These unborn, embryonic people cannot volunteer themselves on behalf of others. What sort of twisted "love" for humanity chooses without the consent of the "chosen" which lives to sacrifice in order save others?

Holbein's Christ in the Tomb
The memo referred to in President Kieschnick's letter (above) concludes as follows: "The Declaration of Independence of the USA recognizes the right of every living human being to life. When the state forfeits its God-given responsibility to protect and defend the life of any of us, the life of each of us is endangered. We in The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod are therefore eager to join together with American citizens of all faiths in opposing any amendment to the Constitution of the State of Missouri or any other state which would legalize the killing of individual human beings from the time of conception to natural death."

I haven't changed my mind since I wrote last December about Jack Danforth's support of the then-pending amendment. I ended that post with these words: "To borrow from Pink Floyd, 'Hey, Danforth, leave them kids alone!' Keep your mellifluous speeches, your melodious words, your malodorous theology, and your malevolent philosophy off the airwaves. Either that, or tell the straight truth: You favor growing and killing babies to treat the illnesses and injuries of those old enough to vote and rich enough to support liars like you and the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative."

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Good catch on the doublespeak. I pray that the Missouri voters see through the deception.
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