Stem cell debate goes to voters
By Christine Vestal, Stateline.org Staff Writer
For the first time since the stem cell debate began, voters are being asked to weigh job creation and potential life-saving cures against moral concerns over the destruction of human embryos in an impassioned battle over a Missouri ballot measure supporting the science.
While the Show Me state is the only one with the question on the Nov. 7 ballot, the controversy over embryonic stem cell research is playing prominently in the Wisconsin governor’s race and cropping up in state races scattered across the country. A few Republican gubernatorial candidates are breaking ranks with the Bush administration by running on their support for the controversial research.
The outcome of the initiative in Missouri – where embryonic stem cell research also has gotten caught up in a tight U.S. Senate race between State Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) and incumbent Sen. Jim Talent (R) – could influence future federal and state efforts to either block or support the science, political analysts say.
McCaskill has made support for embryonic stem cell research a keystone of her campaign, while Talent steadfastly opposes the science on moral grounds.
“If the initiative wins in a battleground state like Missouri, where both Republicans and Democrats have been elected statewide, it is likely to embolden other states that have an economic interest in supporting the science,” said Michael Werner of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an advocacy group for the life sciences.
Scientists are eager to experiment with stem cells from human embryos because the cells have the capacity to develop into any organ tissue in the body. Non-controversial adult stem cell research also is being pursued, but scientists say adult cells do not hold the same potential for cures and therapies.
While Missouri’s proposed constitutional amendment would not commit state funds to the science, it would ensure its legality, unleashing private funding and removing a cloud over the research created by repeated state legislative attempts to criminalize it.
Last year, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R), an anti-abortion conservative, vetoed a measure pushed by conservative legislators that would have made involvement in the science a felony. Blunt derailed the bill because he feared it would cause scientists and the research money backing them to leave the state.
In a close state race, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) is using his support of embryonic stem cell research to differentiate himself from conservative challenger U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R), who opposes using human embryos for the research.