A vote will take place this week in the US state of Missouri on proposed changes the State's constitution to allow all kinds of stem cell research to take place. The Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative - also known as Amendment 2 - will permit so-called therapeutic cloning, dubbed 'somatic cell nuclear transfer' (CNR) in the text, but bars 'cloning' by definition, which covers the implanting of a cloned embryo into a woman (reproductive cloning). The amendment will also permit women who donate eggs for research to be reimbursed for the cost of the procedure and lost wages. The buying and selling of human eggs is prohibited.
If voters approve the changes, it will make embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research part of the constitution, preventing the courts from being able to rule the technique unlawful. The amendment has been supported by Missouri's medical education institutions who are concerned with promoting equal access for patients to federally approved stem cell therapies and ensuring Missouri benefits economically from being able to conduct stem cell research.
The Missouri vote has turned into a political battle between Senate candidate Democrat Clair McCaskill, who supports ES cell research, and Republican Jim Talent, who rejects any research that leads to the destruction of embryos. Senator Talent issued a press statement saying that he will oppose the measure. 'I personally cannot support the initiative', he said, adding 'I've always been opposed to human cloning and this measure would make cloning human life at the earliest stage a constitutional right'.
Missouri is holding midterm elections for seats in the Senate. Jennie Bowser, policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislature, says that a nearly record high number of ballot initiatives were proposed by Americans this year, reflecting dissatisfaction with the government at state levels. ES cell research is pivotal in some of the races to the Senate, according to Peter Agre, founding member of Scientists and Engineers for America, and such is the case in Missouri. Stem cell research has become an issue in five 'tossup' states and most have candidates who are pitching against each other over the issue. He also suggested that 'this is not a Republican or Democratic issue' and Republicans are beginning to come round to realising the potential benefits of stem cell research.
The Democrat campaign for Amendment 2 sparked controversy last week when actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's and supports all forms of stem cell research, appeared in a TV advertisement saying, 'as you might know I care deeply about stem cell research. In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill who shares my hope for cures. Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalise the science that gives us a chance for hope'. The advertisement was helped along when right-wing talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh, later accused Fox of 'faking' his symptoms and 'acting' for the camera's benefit. Anti-ES cell campaigners have criticised the advertisement for deceiving viewers. They point out that Mr Fox does not distinguish between stem cell research without embryos, which is largely supported, and ES cell research, the focus of the advertising campaign. They say Senator Talent wanted to 'criminalise' CNR and not 'stem cell research'.
In related news, a Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, showed that fifty per cent of Americans favour using taxes to fund somatic (adult) stem cell research, with thirty-seven per cent against. The poll also revealed that the issue ranked low in voters' priorities in comparison to issues such as Iraq, the economy, health care and terrorism.
The Missouri vote will take place on 7 November.