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STEM CELL RESEARCH: POLITICAL ACTIVITY

Amendment 2 in Missouri (2006)

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Sponsored link.\

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Overview:

This is an amendment to the constitution of the state of Missouri known as: "Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative." It covers two topics:

bulletIt prohibits reproductive cloning.
bulletIt permits therapeutic cloning, which enables "Human embryonic stem cell research," (a.k.a. "Early stem cell research)." This involves research on stem cells, which are extracted from pre-embryos obtained either:
bulletAs a result of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (a.k.a. SCNT), or
bulletFrom fertility clinics which generally have surplus embryos left over after in-vitro fertilization procedures.

Once extracted from an embryo, the stem cells -- the part of the embryo that contains human DNA -- continue to live and reproduce. The sac in which they were housed dies.

The amendment was narrowly approved by the voters during the 2006 mid-term elections on 2006-NOV-07. With 99% of the precincts reporting, CNN listed:

bulletVotes in favor: 1,077,276 (51%)
bulletVotes opposed: 1,028,495 (49%) 1

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What Amendment 2 says about human reproductive cloning:

Most of the public understands the word "cloning" to mean "reproductive cloning:" the processes leading to the birth of an identical twin of an existing newborn, child or adult.

This would involve many steps:

  1. Obtaining a human ovum from a woman.
  2. Removing the DNA from that ovum.
  3. Obtaining a living cell from an existing person.
  4. Removing the DNA from that cell and injecting it into the prepared ovum.
  5. Giving the ovum an electrical shock.
  6. In a very small percentage of cases, the pre-embryo would start to grow via cell division.
  7. The pre-embryo is inserted into the womb of a woman. A pregnancy might develop.
  8. About nine months later, a baby would probably be born. The newborn would be an exact twin of the person who contributed the original DNA, even though they may be decades or generations apart in age.

This is how "Dolly" the sheep was born. The same set of procedures has been used to create clones of many other species.

There are two main things to remember about reproductive cloning:

bulletIt has never been accomplished in humans.
bulletAlthough some have claimed otherwise, there is no evidence that it has ever been attempted in humans.
bulletIt would be a profoundly unethical act, because cloned mammals generally have had a poor medical outcome. Some are afflicted with genetic diseases; others die young.

Amendment 2 prohibits reproductive cloning. In the Missouri constitution, Section 38(d) of Article III states:

bullet2(1): "No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being."

Amendment 2 contains a definition of the key phrase in 2(1):

bullet"6(2): " '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." 2

There is one very serious loophole in Amendment 2, apparently caused either by a lack of foresight or simple carelessness by the author(s). A person might attempt reproductive cloning through ectogenesis. This would involve inserting an embryo into an artificial womb instead of into a woman's uterus. Artificial wombs do not exist at this time, and thus human ectogenesis has never been tried. However, Amendment 2 does not criminalize such activity in the future. Its wording may have to be altered some day.

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What Amendment 2 says about human Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer: 

Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) involves the same first six steps as does reproductive cloning. That is:

  1. Obtaining a human ovum from a woman.
  2. Removing the DNA from the ovum.
  3. Obtaining a living cell from an existing person.
  4. Removing the DNA from that cell and injecting it into the prepared ovum.
  5. Giving the ovum an electrical shock.
  6. In a very small percentage of cases, the pre-embryo starts to grow via cell division.

The pre-embryo is then allowed to grow in the lab for a few days and develop into a blastocyst -- a small mass of undifferentiated cells. These stem cells containing human DNA are then removed from the blastocyst and used in research.

Amendment 2 permits SCNT. Section 38(d) of Article III states:

bullet2: "... Missouri researchers can conduct stem cell research in the state ..."
bullet2(3): No stem cells may be taken from a human blastocyst more than fourteen days after cell division begins..."

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can develop into any of the 220 cell types in the human body.  At about 14 days following the initial cell division, a yellow streak appears on the embryo that will eventually develop into the the neural tube which will be later protected by the backbone. The stem cells have begun to differentiate. The tube will eventually develop into the brain and central nervous system. Once this develops, it is impossible for the embryo to spontaneously split into a pair of identical twins.

To some people, the concept of personhood implies a single living entity. Twins develop into two persons. Some consider that human life, in the form of a spermatozoon and ovum, have become a person at this stage of development. It can no longer split into twins.

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What Amendment 2 says about human in vitro fertilization blastocysts: 

Fertility clinics create embryos by mixing human sperm and ova in their laboratory. They are allowed to grow to the blastocyst stage. A few of the best looking embryos are implanted in the woman's womb in the hope that at least one will produce a pregnancy. The surplus embryos are normally deep frozen for future use. Sometimes, when the first attempt fails, lab personnel will thaw out a few of the frozen embryos and implant them in the womb. In extremely rare cases, the couple involved may allow some surplus embryos implanted in another woman. However, in most cases, the spare embryos are either discarded or left frozen until -- perhaps decades later -- a human error or equipment failure results in their death.

Amendment 2 permits the extraction of stem cells from surplus blastocysts produced by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in fertility clinics. Section 38(d) of Article III states:

bullet2(2): "No human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research."
bullet2(3): "... provided, however, that time during which a blastocyst is frozen does not count against the fourteen-day limit."
bullet2(5): "Human blastocysts and eggs obtained for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures must have been donated with voluntary and informed consent, documented in writing."

The first clause requires that the blastocysts be surplus embryos left over after IVF in fertility clinics, not created in a research lab just for their stem cells.

The second clause defines the effective age of a blastocyst. If a fertility lab deep freezes blastocysts, say at the age of 7 days, they can remain frozen for months or years and still be considered 7-day-old embryos when they are thawed. They can still have their stem cells extracted  and used in early stem cell research.

The third clause requires that the individuals who provided the sperm and ovum knowingly donate their embryos. Other clauses require that the embryos be donated and not sold.

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Why are embryonic stem cells important?

There are two different type of stem cells:

bulletEmbryonic stem cells: These are pluripotent. That is, they have the unique potential of being able to develop into any of the 220 cell types in the human body (e.g. blood cells, heart cells, brain cells, muscle cells, bone cells, etc).
bulletAdult stem cells: These can be harvested from newborns, children and adults with fewer ethical concerns. However, they have already started to specialize and thus do not have the same level of flexibility as do embryonic stem cells.

A National Institutes of Health news release states:

"...research involving human pluripotent stem cells...promises new treatments and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries. The NIH believes the potential medical benefits of human pluripotent stem cell technology are compelling and worthy of pursuit in accordance with appropriate ethical standards." 3

The first embryonic stem cells were only obtained in 1988. Research has barely begun on embryonic stem cells. Treatments and cures are still decades in the future. However, research using adult stem cells has been going on for decades; treatments and cures are now being tried on humans.

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Objections to Amendment 2:

The Family Research Council (FRC) assigns a different meaning to the word "cloning" than the Amendment 2 does:

bulletThe text of Amendment 2 defines "cloning" as beginning when an embryo is implanted in a woman's womb "for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus or the birth of a human being." That is, the term "cloning" refers only to reproductive cloning which the Amendment bans.
bulletThe FRC defines "cloning" as beginning when an embryo is created with DNA that matches that of an existing person. That is, step 4 in the above sequence. Thus, "cloning" can refer either to reproductive cloning or therapeutic cloning (a.k.a. "Human embryonic stem cell research"). 7

We suspect that the FRC is troubled because:

bulletThe amendment would legalize the creation of an embryo that could produce the birth of a cloned person if someone were to commit a criminal act by implanting it in a womb.
bulletThey believe that human life (in the form of a spermatozoon and ovum) becomes a human person at the instant of conception. Thus extracting stem cells from a blastocyst is murder of a human being.
bulletThey probably believe that a human ovum with its DNA replaced by DNA from another person, becomes a human person. Again, extracting stem cells from a blastocyst is murder of a human being.

So, like the debates over abortion access, the conflict can be traced to a religious belief: when does human life become a human person? This conflict has not been resolved after decades of arguing over abortion access. No consensus is likely in the near future over stem cells either.

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References used:

  1. "America Votes 2006," CNN.com, 2006-NOV-08, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  2. "2006 Ballot Measure: Constitutional Amendment 2: Stem Cell Initiative," Submitted 2005-OCT-11, at: http://www.sos.mo.gov/
  3. "NIH publishes final guidelines for stem cell research," National Institutes of Health, 2000-AUG-23, at: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/aug2000/od-23.htm
  4. "Washington Update: Missouri Cloning Bill: Trick or Treatment?," Family Research Council, 2006-OCT-18.

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Stem cells > here

 Home page > Morality > Stem cells > here

or Home page > Hot topics > Stem cells > here

or Home page > Hot topics > here

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2006-NOV-11
Latest update: 2006-NOV-11
Compiled by B.A. Robinson

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