Calif. citizens to vote on funding embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)--In a test case for the nationwide stem cell and cloning debate, California voters will decide in November whether to fund both embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning with $3 billion in state bonds.

Supporters say the initiative -- Proposition 71 -- is a good investment by the state and will result in cures for major diseases. Over a decade it would provide an average of $295 million per year for research. Opponents, though, call the initiative misleading; they say it would result in the destruction of human life and is a bad deal for a state already in financial trouble.

The initiative itself is a constitutional amendment and made its way onto the ballot when supporters gathered some 1 million signatures.

Pro-family groups, including the Campaign for California Families, oppose it.

"Proposition 71 is bad morally and fiscally for the people of California," Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Sacramento-based organization, told Baptist Press. "It would force California taxpayers to pay for the destruction of very young human beings -- embryos -- for a dubious purpose, cloning."

New Jersey is the only state to fund embryonic stem cell research with public money, according to Stateline.org

Stem cells are the body's master cells that produce other cells and tissues. Their discovery has raised hopes for treating afflictions such as Parkinson's disease, heart disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

They can be harvested from adult bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and placentas -- research supported by both sides of the stem cell debate. These sources sometimes are called adult stem cells.

But the stem cells also can be harvested from human embryos, and that is at the heart of the controversy. Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of the embryos themselves -- a step that most pro-lifers find unacceptable. Often, the embryos are gathered from fertility clinics, where they are stored frozen.

Proposition 71, though, goes one step beyond embryonic stem cell research by funding therapeutic cloning, a process that involves the cloning of an embryo solely for the harvesting of its stem cells. The initiative requires that the cloned embryos be destroyed within 12 days.

Therapeutic cloning and the other type of cloning, reproductive cloning, differ only in their final result. In reproductive cloning, the embryo is implanted in a woman's uterus. In therapeutic cloning, it is destroyed.

"When you pass laws authorizing the creation of human life that must be destroyed, you transform that form of humanity into a commodity," California bioethicist Wesley J. Smith told Christianity Today. "Even nascent human life should not be dehumanized in this way. It changes the way we think about what it means to be human and why being human is important."

Opponents charge that the text of the initiative is misleading. For instance, the words "embryo" are "embryonic" are not used. Instead, embryonic stem cell research is called by its scientific name, "pluripotent stem cell research." Embryos from fertility clinics are dubbed "surplus products of in vitro fertilization." Additionally, therapeutic cloning is called "somatic cell nuclear transfer," also a scientific term.

"That obscures the truth," Thomasson said. "Proposition 71 funds cloning of human embryos -- little human beings. Dolly the sheep move over; the cloning of human being would start, funded by average Californians who actually oppose cloning."

In fact, the cloning aspect of the initiative has been overlooked by many media outlets that instead have focused on the embryonic stem cell issue. This may be because the initiative has a clause stating that reproductive cloning would be prohibited.

"I question whether the public will actually understand the terms of this complicated measure or that it seeks a constitutional right to conduct research into human cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer as it is known scientifically," Smith told Christianity Today. "... [M]uch of the information that might be acquired from the state-funded research into SCNT is the same that would be needed to do reproductive cloning, and once that data got out, it could be used by others to bring cloned babies into the world."

Pro-lifers note that adult stem cell research has had far more success than embryonic stem cell research. In fact, all the stem cell therapies that have resulted in cures for patients so far -- approximately 40 -- have been derived from adult stem cells.

"Forcing taxpayers to clone the tiniest of human beings and destroy them ... does not promote a culture of life," Thomasson told BP. "It promotes a brave new world that misuses humans and money through false advertising."

Although California is considered a left-leaning state, the vote may be close. A Field Poll released Aug. 15 found the initiative supported by a margin of 45-42 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided.

"This is a tight race," Thomasson said. "The votes of moral citizens will make all the difference. People should start talking about Proposition 71, the cloning initiative, and urge people to vote against it on Nov. 2."


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