Embryonic stem cell debate moves to N.J.

TRENTON, N.J. (BP)--The nationwide debate over stem cell research moves to New Jersey Tuesday, when voters in the cash-strapped state will decide whether to borrow $450 million through bonds to fund the most controversial type of such research -- embryonic.

Passage of Public Question 2 would move New Jersey to the forefront of embryonic stem cell research, which necessarily requires the destruction of the tiny human beings and which has yet to produce any cures, despite much hype.

Pro-lifers urging a "no" vote on the question normally would face an uphill battle in the left-leaning state but have a fighting chance this time -- mainly because of the state's debt. New Jersey ranks in the top five nationally among all states in debt load, and that could only grow if the research doesn't provide a return. In fact, the proposal's fine print states that the $450 million could end up being repaid by sales and property taxes. Because of that, The Star-Ledger newspaper published an editorial urging caution on the proposal, and The Record of Hackensack endorsed a "no" vote.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University telephone poll of 701 likely voters released Nov. 1 showed the question winning, 47-38 percent.

Even the ballot language -- the actual wording voters will read when entering the booth -- has been a source of controversy.

"It will allow research that kills human beings," New Jersey Right to Life Executive Director Marie Tasy told Baptist Press. "It also will allow human cloning, despite claims that it will not. It's highly deceptive."

The ballot language, approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jon Corzine, fails to mention any of the controversial elements. In fact, the words "embryo" or "embryonic" -- not to mention "cloning" -- aren't found in the language. It simply includes general references to "stem cell research projects" and the claim that such research "could benefit state residents afflicted with diseases."

Pro-lifers say New Jersey voters would be wise to look at California, where voters passed a much larger, $3 billion stem cell initiative in 2004, only to see the research institute later issue a report saying any cures likely were well over 10 years away. In fact, that report said the goal simply was to "have some therapies in clinical development" at the 10-year mark.

Meanwhile, research worldwide using non-embryonic stem cells (often called adult stem cells) has produced treatments for at least 73 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Non-embryonic stem cells can be harvested from, for instance, cells within an adult's body and umbilical cord blood.

"Unfortunately, this administration and legislative sponsors [in New Jersey] are obsessed with advancing embryonic stem cell research, and they have a track record of disproportionately allocating funds to that type of research," Tasy of Right to Life said.

Corzine gave $150,000 of his own money to the political action committee promoting the ballot question. Additionally, last year he signed into law a bill providing $270 million to build stem cell research facilities. The question in front of voters Tuesday would fund the research inside those facilities -- a sequence, Tasy said, that in essence is putting the egg before the chicken.

The proposal's fine print makes it clear the research would fund embryonic stem cell research -- and apparently therapeutic cloning. Although the proposal bans reproductive cloning -- that is, cloning that produces a child -- it is silent on cloning that doesn't result in a birth, which is known as therapeutic cloning. With that latter type of cloning, an embryo is cloned simply to allow the harvesting of its stem cells. Such cloning in theory could give scientists an unlimited supply of embryos.

"It definitely means they're going to be cloning and killing human beings," Tasy said. "They're denying it because they've redefined cloning and they're hoping the people will be fooled. And yet, they're lying to the voters and claiming there will be no human cloning."

Christians must be joined together in opposition to Public Question 2 if it is to be defeated, Tasy said.

"They did a poll that showed that 48 percent of Catholics and 48 percent of evangelicals were supporting this a couple of weeks ago," she said. "That's bad. It would be wonderful if the entire Christian community unites on this. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian should be opposed to this."


Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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