Respectful Insolence

This one’s for you, Afarensis (all in good fun, of course–well, for the most part, anyway):

Here’s Jeff Suppan, pitcher for the Cardinals (who, it just so happens, will be starting game four of the World Series tonight) appearing prominently along with Patricia Heaton, Jim Caviezel, and other celebrities in a predictably lame “response” ad to the ad that Michael J. Fox made supporting the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Claire McCaskill. Fox made the original ad because McCaskill supports removing the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that destroys embryos to create new lines of stem cells. She also supports an amendment to the Missouri State Constitution that allows state funding of stem cell research in which new stem cell lines are derived from leftover embryos from fertility clinics:

In the video, Suppan claims that this amendment somehow “makes cloning a constitutional right.” I’ve read the text of the bill. Can someone explain how it “makes cloning a constitutional right”? In fact, it bans human cloning. There it is in Section 38(d)2:

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

(2) No human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research.

Definitions are:

6. As used in this section, the following terms have the following meanings:

(1) “Blastocyst” means a small mass of cells that results from cell division, caused either by fertilization or somatic cell nuclear transfer, that has not been implanted in a uterus.

(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.

There’s nothing in the amendment that “makes cloning a ‘constitutional right.'” What the proposed amendment does do is to make explicit the rules under which embryonic stem cell research may be conducted and to allow the development of new stem cell lines primarily from unused blastocysts left over from attempts at in vitro fertilization. Yet here are these idiots trying to scare viewers into thinking that this amendment will somehow lead to greedy fertility clinics paying poor women just to get their eggs to make blastocysts from which to harvest stem cells. (Or maybe they think they’ll bribe poor women into undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments under a false diagnosis of infertility, just to make stem cells.) In this, Patricia Heaton’s segment is particularly odious. In fact, given the disconnect between what she says and what the law says, she is clearly full of bovine feces. The proposed amendment clearly states:

(4) No person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human blastocysts or eggs for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures.

(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.

Valuable consideration is defined:

17) “Valuable consideration” means financial gain or advantage, but does not include reimbursement for reasonable costs incurred in connection with the removal, processing, disposal, preservation, quality control, storage, transfer, or donation of human eggs, sperm, or blastocysts, including lost wages of the donor. Valuable consideration also does not include the consideration paid to a donor of human eggs or sperm by a fertilization clinic or sperm bank, as well as any other consideration expressly allowed by federal law.

In other words, the amendment specifically bans the sale of human eggs or blastocysts for the purpose of stem cell research while continuing to allow payment for sperm donors or egg donors who donate to fertility clinics. It’s almost exactly the opposite of what Patricia Heaton claims, meaning the overblown claims about how dangerous donating eggs is are nothing more than a blatant and transparent attempt to frighten and enrage voters.

What opponents seem to be harping on is the fact that the bill permits somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT, sometimes called “therapeutic cloning”), as opposed to reproductive cloning, in which the purpose of the research is to produce a clone of a human being. As the AAMC states:

Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) or therapeutic cloning involves removing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell, replacing it with the material from the nucleus of a “somatic cell” (a skin, heart, or nerve cell, for example), and stimulating this cell to begin dividing. Once the cell begins dividing, stem cells can be extracted 5-6 days later and used for research. The AAMC supports on-going research into SCNT and has endorsed legislation that would allow such research to flourish.

Reproductive cloning, on the other hand, is intended to create human beings by cloning human embryos. The AAMC and the National Academy of Sciences recommend a ban on all forms of this type of cloning.

SCNT can be the first step in reproductive cloning in theory, but in reality it is proposed in humans for potential therapy:

Embryonic stem cells are created by performing somatic cell nuclear transfer using a somatic cell (usually a skin cell) from the patient or research subject. They are harvested when the egg has undergone cell division and formed a blastocyst. The resulting cells would be, ideally, genetically identical to the original, allowing doctors to tailor stem cell treatments to individual patients avoiding any complications from immune system rejection.

It’s always amusing to watch sports stars and celebrities stick their feet in their mouths, but in this particular case it’s sad and pathetic, too. I’m not going to dismiss the ethical considerations of therapeutic cloning (nor, actually, am I all that enamored of enshrining the protection of this particular form of research in a state constitution when passing a simple law would do), but the considerations are different than for reproductive cloning. Creating short-lived genetically identical stem cells is different than trying to clone a human being, and all this amendment does is to permit the former. (For one thing, SCNT involves placing the nucleus of an adult cell into an egg whose nucleus has been removed; theologically if one believes that the embryo becomes human and becomes “ensouled” at the moment of conception, it is hard to imagine the same process happening when an adult nucleus is injected into an egg lacking a nucleus.) It most certainly does not create a “right” to cloning, as the makers of the ad claim. Indeed, they must know damned well that when terms like a “right to cloning” are used people will think of Brave New World or The Boys from Brazil, not of making a short-lived blastocyst with the purpose of harvesting genetically identical stem cells. Clearly the makers of this ad are counting on the ignorance of most voters about stem cell research, because anyone who is even somewhat knowledgeable about it and bothers to read the bill will see right through this ad. If I believed in karma, I would guess that karma should demand that Suppan lose (and lose big) tonight for associating himself with such blatantly deceptive propaganda.

(Via Reason Hit and Run.)

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    October 25, 2006

    Simply put- thank you for clarifying this for us.

  2. #2 Aaron M
    October 25, 2006

    Clearly the makers of this ad are counting on the ignorance of most voters about stem cell research

    Indeed they are. There’s a massive sign campaign by the religious right (at least in my part of MO) imploring people to vote against the amendment and directing them to NoCloning.org. A former surgeon (!) I know is visiting churches to tell them about the evil epidemic of cloning and baby-slaughter that this amendment will bring upon us.

  3. #3 CJ Croy
    October 25, 2006

    The argument that it doesn’t actually ban cloning isn’t totally unsupportable. The argument rests on the precise definition of ‘cloning’ they use, which defines cloning as implanting a blastocyst into a uterus. So if we had a method of cloning that didn’t involve a uterus, we could legally clone a human being.

    I’m still voting yes.

  4. #4 Chris
    October 25, 2006

    On a related note, this story relates how the anti-stem cell Jim Talent got owned during the commercial breaks of last night’s game:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/10/24/232452/88

  5. #5 afarensis
    October 25, 2006

    The Danforth ad has been airing in Missouri for a couple of days now…

  6. #6 Pharma Bawd
    October 25, 2006

    I had to rant about this add a little here:

    What Would Jesus Do About Michael J. Fox?

    Can someone explain how it “makes cloning a constitutional right”?”

    I think its 5, and 13 that get them all worked up.

    5) “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.”

    (13) “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 … (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).”

    SCNT, therapeutic cloning, is just as “evil” as reproductive cloning.

    Number 2 makes it clear that the legislators are writing the law so that making ES cells from blastocysts derived from SCNT is OK.

    (2) No human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research.”

    It does not restrict using SCNT, “therapeutic cloning”, to make blastocysts for ES cell work. This is an ammendment to the constitution, thus there will be a “constitutional right” to (therapeutic) cloning in Missouri.

  7. #7 ChrisTheRed
    October 25, 2006

    There was a really, really over-the-top, offensive, jaw-droppingly idiotic ad here in the St. Louis area that I saw only once (though that was enough). Basically, a mother was fretting that her teenage daughter might not be able ever to have children because she was forced to sell her eggs to pay for college. My wife and I just gaped at each other for a moment, not believing how inexcusably dishonest it was (and she’s iffy on SCNT in general).

    Oh, and (ahem): Go Cards.

  8. #8 Orac
    October 25, 2006

    It does not restrict using SCNT, “therapeutic cloning”, to make blastocysts for ES cell work. This is an ammendment to the constitution, thus there will be a “constitutional right” to (therapeutic) cloning in Missouri.

    I beg to differ. Just because something is permitted under the constitution does not necessarily mean that there is a “right” to it, unless you strain the definition of what a “right” is.

    You do have a point about how SCNT is viewed as being just as evil as reproductive cloning, though.

  9. #9 Chris
    October 25, 2006

    Personally, I don’t see why people get worked up about reproductive cloning either. I’ve known several clones and they didn’t strike me as any more sinister than anyone else. (They usually avoided the C-word and went by the old term “identical twins”, though.)

    Arguments that cloning could be misused for X, therefore we shouldn’t use it are like saying we shouldn’t have any airplanes because someone might crash them into a building to commit mass murder, or we shouldn’t have any cars because of all the people killed by drunk drivers.

  10. #10 Pharma Bawd
    October 25, 2006

    Allright, they’re straining the definition of a “right”.

    But it would be unconstitutional for the executive branch to create restrictions on SCNT for ESCR or for the legislature to write laws restricting it if this is added to the constitution.

    (Just to clarify, I’m in favor of all of these things. The research, passing the ammendment, a constitutional “right”, a constitutional Right,…)

  11. #11 beajerry
    October 25, 2006

    Limbaugh is a total dick. As if anyone didn’t know that, he keeps reminding us.

  12. #12 Amy Alkon
    October 26, 2006

    Regarding anything from egg sales to organ sales (see Virginia Postrel’s dynamist.com for more discussion on that) to prostitution: It’s your body, why shouldn’t you be able to sell any part or product of it if you want to?

  13. #13 valhar2000
    October 26, 2006

    Well, the proposed law is wrong in the it does not intersect sufficiently with this ad: cloning SHOULD be allowed, and selling egg cells to clinics SHOULD be allowed to.

    Are there any good reasons not to allow this? The only things people come up with are dumbed down versions of sci-fi movie plots that were already very dumb to start with.

  14. #14 Prup aka Jim Benton
    October 26, 2006

    I hope there are enough Missourians, even Cardinal fans, who will have the guts to stand up and boo Suppan when his name is announced tonight. I’m glad the game was potponed so I could watch this.

    Before it was just the baseball fan in me that caused me to say this, now it comes from other parts as well:
    “GO Tigers!” (Especially tonight.)

  15. #15 raindogzilla
    October 26, 2006

    So a washed up xian back-up to Matt Leinert, Jeebus from a homoerotic, sadomasochistic Mel Gibson biopic, a Cardinals hurler with a high school diploma, and a brood mare/mediocre sitcom actress are qualified to speak on the issue how? Michael J. Fox, having Parkinson’s and having been intimately involved in the fundraising and research into his ailment for the last fifteen years, has, at the minimum, a fairly sophisticated layman’s understanding of the issue. The B-list Catholic Celebrities Caucus from the response ad are qualified only for promoting ignorance through fear.

    As to Warner’s remarks on the “fifteen years” it could take to produce cures from embryonic stemcells. Did anyone, anywhere say that it would happen overnight? And, am I mistaken that fifteen years is pretty damned fast for a project of this complexity and magnitude?

  16. #16 Julie Stahlhut
    October 26, 2006

    Basically, a mother was fretting that her teenage daughter might not be able ever to have children because she was forced to sell her eggs to pay for college.

    A ninth-grade biology student should be able to fisk that one. Of course, in this society a lot of blue-collar kids have to go to war in order to pay for college, which is something about which we get nowhere near enough complaints.

    Personally, I don’t see why people get worked up about reproductive cloning either. I’ve known several clones and they didn’t strike me as any more sinister than anyone else. (They usually avoided the C-word and went by the old term “identical twins”, though.)

    Gaaaaahhhh! This means that during my sophomore and junior years in college, I had a human clone for a roommate! (… now speed-dialing the National Enquirer with dollar signs in my eyes ….)

  17. #17 J-Dog
    October 27, 2006

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!! I was able to use your post and the responses to help my 7th grader write an essay for his 7th grade science class as to why we should be allowed to do stem cell research. We then watched the early innings, and the darned Tigers had the lead when I shut it down. At least Supon didn’t win….

    Thanks again!

  18. #18 Keanus
    October 27, 2006

    As a citizen I give as much weight to Suppan’s endorsement as I do to that of any other celebrityÚ interesting but it carries no more weight than the opinions of my neighbor. And although I’m a life long Cardinal fan (who’s never lived even close to St. Louis) I was delighted to see Suppan get a no decision. I wanted him to lose, but not the Cardinals. The outcome was what I hoped for. So much for the irrational behavior of celebrities.

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