MBC joins suit to keep somatic cell matter off ballot; commits $137,000 - Word&Way

MBC joins suit to keep somatic cell matter off ballot; commits $137,000

Jefferson City — The Missouri Baptist Convention has put its weight behind a move to keep a somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) proposal from being included on the ballot in November, committing $137,000 to the effort.

The MBC joined the fray in mid-December when the MBC Executive Board, MBC president Ralph Sawyer and Executive Board member Cindy Province were allowed to intervene in the case.

The MBC money to combat the effort will include $90,000 from the Cooperative Program budget, $27,000 from the Christian Life Commission's budget and $20,000 from the executive director's budget.

Plans call for the convention to release a DVD in mid-February and for its radio/video studio to produce five 28-second radio spots.

A hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 19 in the Cole County Circuit Court Division II courtroom in Jefferson City. Judge Byron Kinder will preside.

Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Ariz., representing Jefferson City-based Missourians Against Human Cloning, filed the original case in November in an effort to stop the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative from being added to the November 2006 state ballot. If passed, the initiative would change the state's constitution to allow SCNT research.

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures backs the proposal and must collect 150,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot.

At issue is whether wording that would appear on the ballot is misleading. In SCNT, sometimes referred to as "therapeutic cloning," scientists replace the nucleus of an unfertilized egg with material from a "somatic cell" of a particular organ, such as the heart or a nerve. The egg cell is stimulated, and the new cells created as the original divides are harvested for research.

Initiative proponents say the proposal simply will ensure that Missourians will be able to take advantage of any research allowed under federal law. "The initiative will make it clear in our state constitution that any stem cell research, therapies or cures that are permitted by federal law will be allowed in Missouri — provided that such activities are conducted ethically and safely and do not involve human reproductive cloning to create babies," the Web site says.

But opponents believe the proposal's wording is misleading. The SCNT process is used to create embryos, such as Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned animal. Although the ballot initiative indicates human cloning would be banned under the proposal, cloning is narrowly defined as placing the egg in a human womb for development. That, opponents say, would cause ethical problems, because the process, even outside the uterus, creates a human embryo. Opponents also say the proposal would lift current restrictions on public funding for stem cell research.

In addition to the not-for-profit corporation, David W. Mason of St. Joseph, Sarah E. Mason of St. Joseph, William P. Bierman of Barnhart, Tammy Coleman of Kansas City and Mary S. Weber of Mokane are listed as plaintiffs.

The Cole County Circuit Court also approved two additional sets of interveners. Six Missouri bishops, including Archbishop Raymond Burke and bishops Robert Finn, Raymond Boland, John Leibrecht, John Gaydos and Robert Hermann, joined the legal action shortly after it was filed.

Proponents allowed to intervene include an Episcopal priest and former ambassador John Danforth, Thomas Eagleton, Donn Rubin, Jeffrey Alan McCaffrey and Cynthia Kramer. (01-13-05)