By Patrick Dobson
(Editors note: The following is a shortened version
of articles that first appeared in the June 18, 2004 issue of the National
Missouri State Senator Anita Yeckel was surprised and
pleased to get a call from her pastor, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Leo
Burke the evening of Jan.12.
The strongly pro-life Catholic and Republican was in her office in the
state Capitol in Jefferson City preparing to attend a hearing of Lees
Summit Sen. Matt Bartles bill prohibiting human cloning before the
Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
Raymond Leo Burke. (Photo by Patrick Dobson)
The purpose of Burkes call, she thought, was courtesy.
I couldnt figure out why he was calling, she said. I
thought it was nice, though. He was very charming. But then, I was saying
what he wanted to hear. I thought I was going to vote for the bill.
Sen. Matt Bartles bill, also known as the anti-cloning
bill, would make it a felony offense to for a person to participate in,
or use state funds or facilities the cloning of a human being. According
to the definitions included in the bill, Clone a human being
or cloning a human being, shall mean, the creation
of a human being by any means other than by the fertilization of a naturally
intact oocyte of a human female by a naturally intact sperm of a human
As such, in vitro fertilization, a useful method of producing
embryos (joining egg and sperm) for implantation into women who have been
unable or have had difficulty getting pregnant, would not be prohibited
under the bill.
On its face, the bill would outlaw an act morally distasteful
to many Americans. But it would also criminalize a biomedical research
procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer that some geneticists and
doctors believe holds promise as a way to produce stem cells for tissue
repair and therapy. It is a much easier method than using todays
existing stem cell lines or harvesting adult stem cells, which can be
a painful and invasive procedure. To many scientists, researchers, ethicists,
and common Americans, the procedure also skirts the ethical and moral
difficulties of creating new life from joining egg and sperm to harvest
stem cells from the resulting blastocyst, or pre-embryonic organism, a
short time later.
Burke has decided to take a stand in Missouri that could have serious
national implications. If successful, his campaign would essentially shut
down any human genetic bioscience research efforts in Missouri. If his
view prevails, one of the most ambitious research efforts in the Midwest
may be forced to move elsewhere, and university work on human genetics
could be in jeopardy. The debate in Missouri contains the elements of
the battle over certain areas of bioscience that is going on in varying
degrees nationally. And the debate is not confined to cloning of cells,
but also includes concerns over health care, how resources are used, who
has access to the latest developments and how the health care system is
going to pay for making new applications broadly available.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer involves removing the nucleus
of an egg cell. That nucleus is then replaced with the nucleus from a
donors skin, liver, brain, or any other cell in the body.
Yeckel was the swing vote on the bill on the committee of
nine senators. She had been the subject of heavy lobbying by the Missouri
Catholic Conference and Missouri Right to Life in the weeks previous to
And while the Missouri Catholic Conference is the lobbying agency for
the bishops, Burke said he is acting on his conviction that, as a teacher
and leader, it is his duty to make sure Catholic legislators within his
diocese know the churchs position on Bartles legislation.
Since Yeckel was a member of his flock, his obligation was to inform Yeckel
of the churchs position on human cloning, he said.
Summit Sen. Matt Bartle concedes that pursuit of somatic cell
nuclear transfer research may lead to groundbreaking therapies,
"but taking one life to save another is inappropriate,"
he says. "When we begin making those kinds of judgements,
we've gone well beyond our authority." (Photo by Scott
Thomas, photographer, Missouri Senate)
His call to Yeckel also marked Burkes first personal
foray into Missouri politics and signaled his preference for taking an
activist leadership role.
Burke joins an increasingly powerful pro-life lobby in Missouri.
Since he has come to Missouri, Archbishop Burke has weighed in decisively
and forcefully on Catholic moral and social justice teachings, said
Deacon Larry Weber, head lobbyist for the Missouri Catholic Conference.
I look at him willing to be involved. He will be frequently weighing
in on issues in Jefferson City and in Washington.
Burkes installment in the heavily Catholic St. Louis area may give
him a strong platform as a church leader. St. Louis has one of the largest
Catholic school systems in the nation, a large and faithful Catholic community,
and a Catholic tradition dating to its establishment as a French colonial
outpost. Anything he does and said will be watched and heard around the
state and the nation.
In such a position, Burke adds additional heft to the pro-life agenda
of the Conference, which already has a ready ear among conservative legislators,
Catholic and Protestant. He already is admired by many in the Missouri
General Assembly, though many legislators of all faiths often differ from
the Churchs stance on the death penalty, the conflict in Iraq, and
Rep. Mike Sager, a pro-choice Democrat, has voted solidly pro-choice since
entering the Missouri House in 2002, stands by his convictions so solidly
that, he said, I began denying myself communion in 1988. Now
an Episcopalian, Sager said he understands the pressures on Catholic Missouri
state legislators. Moreover, pressures on legislators to vote for pro-life
issues across the board are enormous.
The Missouri Legislature is a place run on fear, he said.
Whether youre pro-life or pro-choice, it doesnt matter.
You vote pro-life because youre afraid of whats going to happen
to you if you dont.
You talk to people who go to the Missouri General Assembly on the
pro-choice side. They get there, and suddenly you find them lining up
on the pro-life side, merely because they know this is a political football
they cant handle. And when it comes to therapeutic cloning or somatic
cell nuclear transfer, the rhetoric is just as steamed and difficult to
surmount as with abortion.
With the Archbishop Burkes arrival, he said, the real challenges
begin for Catholic legislators, and for all of us, really.
Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer
Researchers at the Stowers Institute for Biomedical Research in Kansas
City and at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis have already
been able to produce promising results in spinal cord repair on animals,
such as mice and cats, using stem cells generated with somatic cell nuclear
Normally, the DNA in the replacement nucleus is programmed to produce
only the cell it came fromskin cell nuclei, for example, produce
and manage skin cells only. But the cytoplasm in an egg cell can turn
on the DNA strand in the replacement nucleus in full. The DNA in
any cell in the human body has the genetic code to produce any other cell
in the body, DNA from a thumbnail cell, for instance, can, under correct
circumstances, be made to produce liver cells, and vice versa.
More importantly to researchers today, these DNA strands also include
the information necessary for cells that arent required past the
very beginnings of life, such as those that set the stage for gestation
and the amorphous stem cells that can ultimately specialize into organs,
limbs, and tissues within the first weeks and months of embryonic development.
These unspecialized stem cells can be coaxed into becoming the tissues
doctors mean to treat. But just as important, researchers see stem cells
as the key to discovering how to turn on all or part of the
DNA strand at will for to build, repair, and replace selected tissues,
organs, and cellsall from, by, and for the person from whom the
genetic material comes.
Proponents of somatic cell nuclear transfer, such as Stowers president
and CEO, Dr. William Neaves, say the procedure is a way to produce stem
cells, which can take the form of any other cell in the body, without
creating new human life or destroying a human embryo. Since the cells
produced in the procedure have the same genetic imprint of the donor,
rejection problems with implantation of donor materials do not exist.
You are working entirely with the genes of a person conceived years
earlier, Neaves said. You are not creating new life. You are
not causing conception to occur. You are just reawakening the developmental
potential that already resides in that individuals (donors)
Opponents, such as Bartle and Burke, however, argue that there is no distinction
between the fertilized embryo and the organism with a full human genome
derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Yeckel, who considers herself a good and faithful Catholic, says when
she spoke on the phone with the Bishop, she was in complete agreement
with him. She is solidly pro-life, believes staunchly in outlawing abortion,
and would vote against the death penalty.
knew I was a good Catholic," said St. Louis Sen. Anita Yeckel.
"And they were courteous. But they never once wanted to really
discuss the issue. At some point, they always say that it's killing
a baby, and that ends it. Still, they will accept other killingsthe
death penalty, the war." (Photo by Scott Thomas, photographer,
Yeckels chat with the Bishop had buoyed her. Walking
down the echoing marble halls of the Missouri Capitol to the hearing that
evening, she had no qualms about what she was going to do. She believed
she was going to vote to move Bartles anti-cloning bill out of committee.
It was, after all, cloning, something morally reprehensible to begin with.
Then, it would be killing a human being, something she has stood against
her whole career in the senate, which she began in 1996.
I got into the hearing, and thought I was going to vote for the
bill, she said. But once she read the bill, she says, I couldnt.
I just saw that somatic cell nuclear transfer could have ethical implications
that were different. That this was different than abortion. Matts
bill would have done away with all the research that, as I saw it, could
have allowed a mother to help her diabetic child, or a family member to
help another. I just wasnt going to vote for Matts bill, as
much as I think hes got good intentions.
Another legislator, however, had put forth an amendment that would
have permitted somatic cell nuclear transfer, and human cloning would
have been strictly forbidden, Yeckel says. With the amendment,
I could have voted for Matts bill. That made sense, to outlaw cloning
but allow this research that could yield such benefits.
I wanted to go even farther and say that the product of the (somatic
cell nuclear) transfer could never be implanted in a human uterus and
the therapy could never be done for a profit, merely because the cost
of the procedure itself would keep it out of the hands of a vast number
of people it would help.
The committee, however, voted down the amendment and Yeckel voted against
moving Bartles bill out of committee. And there the bill remained
with votes tied at four for the bill and four against. Her vote began
a storm of hardship for Yeckel, who has consistently voted for pro-life
legislation in the Missouri Senate.
Without (Harold) Caskeys amendment, the bill didnt make
sense to me, she said. You would outlaw something that could
potentially help a diabetic child. With something that would be the product
of a child and its mother, and something that the mother and child own?
This is not the same as procreation.
They knew I was a good Catholic, Yeckel said. And they
were courteous. But they never once wanted to really discuss the issue.
At some point, they always say that it's killing a baby and that ends
it. Still, they will accept other killingsthe death penalty, the
On Feb. 24, Bartle approached Yeckel at the hearing just before the vote
on his anti-cloning bill. He said if I wanted to take a walk, it
would be easier on me, she said. It would be easier on everyone.
But I told him I had made a stand and was willing to suffer for it. I
voted against moving it out of committee, again.
There the bill died when the legislative session ended in May. Bartle
says he couldnt get his bill out of committee because Cape Girardeau
Republican Sen. Peter Kinder, a pro-life voter, wouldnt come to
the hearings on his bill.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer is important to scientists not merely for
the stem cells it produces that can be given back to the donor, but for
the knowledge it may bring of wakening gene expression in ordinary cells
in the body. Once these transcription factors are understood, the process
of somatic cell nuclear transfer may, itself, become obsolete.
Archbishop Burke, however, said the churchs position is clear. Whether
produced sexually by union of egg and sperm or asexually in somatic cell
nuclear transfer, the cluster of cells that arises is human.
I think it is a manner of speaking, he said. Theres
creation of a human life. However they want to describe it, what we have
is a human life. In fact, as I understand it, there is the creation of
a number (of somatic cells) at the same time in order to find the right
one or the best one for the procedure. So I just dont agree with
The question of the beginning of human life as a priority and all
the moral questions pertaining to human life, if youre talking about
the gift of life itself, at its beginning calls for protection and care
as that life grows and develops.
Matt Bartle concedes that pursuit of somatic cell nuclear transfer research
may lead to groundbreaking therapies, but taking one life to save
another is inappropriate, he said. When we begin making those kinds
of judgments, weve gone well beyond our authority.
Its not morally right or just to experiment on jail populations,
or death row inmates. Why then let scientists kill human embryos to advance
science? My problem, and that of prolifers and the pro-life community,
is that we believe life begins at conception. If you bypass that concept
and create a human embryo, indistinguishable from the conceived one, youre
St. Louis Republican Rep. Jim Lembke had introduced an identical bill
to Bartles in the Missouri House, HB 1151, which also died in committee
this year. He doubts claims that human suffering will be relieved through
somatic cell nuclear transfer research, though the research is only now
I think its a way to sell the item, he said. Even
if it were the fact, the ends dont justify the means. Just the idea
that through research into the process we would be harvesting stem cells
from human embryos for this purpose ends the life of this human for better
quality for anotherit goes against all underpinnings of moral society.
Thomas Shannon, professor of religion and social ethics at Worchester
Polytechnic Institute said the church and many pro-life advocates assume
that fertilization is a specific, identifiable moment. But scientists,
such as Neaves and his colleagues, may have more room to move.
The problem (with the Church view) is that embryology is a process,
said Shannon. Fertilization itself is a process. It takes about
24 hours for the sperm to penetrate the ovum, and then for the chromosomes
to line up, then for the union and formation of the DNA to occur, and
then to have a beginning of cell division.
One thing important to me is that in the blastocyst at the beginning,
the cells have capacity to become other organisms. The cells have a unity,
but it is not a unity of individuality. They are going in a direction,
but they are fluid. It is at this point that twinning can occur, and a
number of other things that are not individual. It takes a week to two
weeks before the cells are committed to body parts they will become.
This is a critical time. For the first two weeks, the organism is
not an individual, and there cant be a person without an individual.
On the other side, Shannon said, the blastocyst, essentially a small ball
filled with stem cells, is a living organism with the human genome worthy
of respect. It is not due the same respect as that accorded to a person,
but respect. If you end its life, then its killing,
not murder. And if its not murder, then there are offsetting reasons
to justify killing. In this case, embryonic stem cell research for the
benefits it may bring to living persons.
Burke said, however, that the beginning of human life means the ensoulment
of the individual. My approach in that regard is that when you have
a human life you have the ensoulment, he said. In other words,
I think to separate the beginning of human life from the ensoulment is
Neaves, who considers himself to be a strong Christian, said, There
is a firm scriptural basis for doing everything in our power to relieve
What Ive been talking about so far has been taking that cluster
of stem cells and growing them in a petri dish and introducing them back
into the body to regenerate damaged heart tissue, to regenerate damaged
lost insulin-secreting cells, to regenerate lost neurons in the brain.
If, however, that small cluster of stem cells is taken and implanted into
a uterus, we know from the example of Dolly the Sheep that, in at least
some mammalscertainly in sheep and cattle, I believe its been
done successfully in cats and mice.
Theres debate whether it would be successful in humans. None
of us here at the Institute have any desire to go along that pathway at
all. Actually, we would be quite happy if the implantation of that small
cluster of stem cells into a uterus were outlawed. But the possibility
that you could take that cluster of stem cells and place it in a uterus
and it would grow up to be a clone of the individual who donated the cell
is a basis of objecting to somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Because the technology can be misused, he said, should not preclude good
faith research with the technology strictly for the purpose of regenerative
therapy, so that the stem cells become the basis of regenerating
damaged tissues in a patients body.
Burkes effect on the legislature
Stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer is a ready-made issue
for Archbishop Burke, who was a politically known figure before he came
to St. Louis.
He had made a name for himself as an outspoken religious leader when,
as the Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, WI, he took firm public stances
against abortion. In Nov. 23, 2003, Burke issued a pastoral notification
on the Diocese of La Crosse Web site stating that in accordance with canon
law, Catholic legislators, who are members of the faithful of the
Diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or
euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion. They
are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should the present themselves,
until such time as the publically (sic) renounce their support of these
most unjust practices.
He arrived in St. Louis in early January from La Crosse amid a storm of
controversy. Shortly before the Missouri Democratic primary in January,
after he assumed his new job, he said publicly he would deny Sen. John
Kerry the Eucharist.
Critics said he was violating the separation of church and state. Pastoral
letters, notifications, and public statements have deep influence on the
political life of the community. Some recalled fears that preceded John
F. Kennedys election to the White House of American political leaders
answering to the Vatican.
Burkes supporters, however, welcome his strong voice. Robert P.
George and Gerard V. Bradley of the National Review Online called the
charge of violating church and state separation silly. No
one is compelled by law to accept his authority, they write in the
Jan. 29 editorial Leading his flock. But Bishop Burke
has every right to exercise his spiritual authority over anyone who chooses
to accept it. There is a name for such people: They are called Catholics.
In an interview in April with NCR, Burke said hes studied the constitutional
matter closely. His understanding is that separation of church and
state is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment
of a religion. In other words, the making of a religion of the state
that this would be a Catholic state or a Lutheran state, or whatever.
But it certainly does not prohibit its leaders from making their contribution
to civic discourse in the interest of promoting the common good. In fact,
to the contrary, our country would be harmed very much if religious and
moral leaders did not speak up and make their contribution to the discussion
of whatever issues are before the nation.
I consider this a very serious duty, said Burke, speaking
in his office at the Chancery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, located
next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis near Forest Park. I
do not consider this interference. I do not tell anyone you have to vote
this way or that way. Im simply saying to a Catholic legislator,
if you vote for legislation that provides for a procured abortion, you
are violating your conscience in a very serious matter.
State Sen. Jon Dolan, a Catholic and a Republican, said he welcomes Burke
and the influence he will bring to bear on pro-life issues in the Missouri
General Assembly. Im happy we have him on the pro-life side,
he said. Hes outspoken and hes made me proud to be a
Dolan is emblematic of the separation between the churchs stand
on abortion and cloning issues and other social issues on which it has
taken strong stances.
Dolan was in the Army National Guard and was called to duty in Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, in 2003 to serve as a public affairs officer. He was granted
leave in September, during which time he came back to the Missouri Senate
to cast the deciding vote on controversial legislation that would allow
Missourians to carry concealed forearms with special permits. Missouri
voters had turned down the same legislation in a referendum a few years
before. The Church in Missouri lobbied against the both passage of the
referendum and the bill Dolan came back from Cuba to vote on.
Dolan was chastised by the military, and after a brief investigation,
forbidden from undertaking any political activity while on active duty.
His vote was allowed to stand.
When it comes to the gun control, the death penalty, and many social issues,
many Missouri Republicans and the Catholic Church part ways.
I like the way Archbishop Burke plays ball, said Bartle. I
hear about his work, and obviously hes supportive of my work. From
what I understand hes doing, the Catholic Church is willing to put
its actions where its mouth is, and not just be pro-life but actually
engage, let people know. We part ways on death penalty and social issues.
I think government does great harm by creating dependence. When it comes
to death penalty, I believe that if you take someones life intentionally,
the state has right to execute you. Period.
Life beginnings, Burke said, is a fundamental and prior moral consideration
to all others regarding the protection of life. With regard to war, he
said, the judgment with regard to the justice of a particular action
or not lies with the civic officials. In that sense, the Church respects
that decision, even though she may criticize it, may call into question.
With regard to the death penalty, Burke said, the Catholic Catechism and
the teachings of the Pope make clear that the Church stands against the
death penalty except in instances of self-defense. We have forms
of incarceration and so forth to deal more humanely to deal with the punishment
of someone who has committed a horrible crime, he said.
Burke said he will not be shy, however, about pursuing the churchs
ant-abortion/anti-cloning stance. He will call legislators, much as he
did Yeckel, when appropriate.
I have the obligation as the bishop to call Catholic legislators
to respect the moral law as taught in the church. It is my responsibility
for their sake and for the sake of others to remind them of the Churchs
teaching. So I will be in communication with them. Wherever I think it
is a question of protecting the common good, fostering the common good,
I will speak out.
Burke doesnt like to be called an activist. On the other hand, he
sees himself as a teacher of the faith and his job is to care for souls,
including the souls of politicians, Catholic politicians, and of
the others who are impacted by the actions of Catholic politicians,
The other thing is, I mean, we live in a world which is very secularized,
he said. There isnt any more a kind of pervasive culture very
much influenced by Judeo-Christian teaching. And, therefore, it is even
more incumbent upon a bishop to teach clearly.
When asked if he plans to issue public notifications related to political
issues, whether on pro- death penalty, or social issues, he said that
because he is so new to his position in St. Louis, to say would be premature.
He insists though that anyone at the head of the Dioceses of St. Louis
assumes a moral leadership position.
If a Catholic legislator persists in a public position contrary
to the churchs position respecting human life, that person should
of his own not come to Holy Communion, he said. But because
these acts are public, I, as Archbishop, or others, would be obligated
if that person did come up to say, you know, You may not receive
the Holy Eucharist.
Conscience v. rightly formed conscience
In matters of faith, Anita Yeckel considers herself strong. I am
a good Catholic, she said. I have never disobeyed my church.
But I do believe the Church should not have taken this stand as comprehensively
as quickly as it has in the context of this research. I think some people
sat at a table and made a decision.
In years to come, I may find out that a bunch of gray heads spent
years and years debating these things, but right now, I believe Im
doing the right thing.
Neaves thinks that if more people could understand clearly that
this is not fertilization, its not conception, its not the
creation of a new life, that a lot of the hesitancy about embracing the
technology would disappear.
Even when it comes to stem cells derived from fertilized embryos, such
as those of the 30 or so stem cell lines approved by the Bush Administration
for research in 2001 obtained from destroyed or aborted embryos, Americans
seem to favor stem cell research.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research foundation found in a survey of 600 self-identified
conservative voters conducted in late 2003 that while 36 percent of those
surveyed said they strongly opposed such research, 56 percent said they
somewhat or strongly supported it. Of the same group of people, only 23
percent wanted to ban stem cell research altogether, 22 percent agreed
with Bush Administration limitations, and 44 percent believed the policy
should be broadened.
Problems that researchers now have with the existing cells lines are several.
The first and foremost is that while these stem cells are just as amorphous
as those produced in somatic cell nuclear transfer, problems arise with
immune reaction and rejection similar to that experienced in organ transplant
That is another reason we are so excited about this, said
Neaves. You dont have to worry about that individual patient
mounting an immune reaction and rejecting the reintroduced cells. Its
his or her own cells being placed back into their bodies. Not recognized
as being foreign at all.
Neaves believes somatic cell nuclear transfer research holds so
much promise, holds so much potential for the relief of human suffering
that we believe its extremely important to preserve an environment
in Missouri where this kind of work can be done.
In this instance, I think its justified for a person to use
his or her own cells, said Anita Yeckel. I would bring up
that intent is a big part of sin, and intent is important. To me, there
is no intention ever to grow a human, or to grow a person to harvest kidneys
or that sort of thing. Rather, this is a way, as far as I can see, of
finding beneficial cells to inject back into the donor.
Bills may force
researchers to relocate
by Patrick Dobson
The blanket anti-cloning bills in the Missouri General Assembly didnt
make it out of committee for deliberation on the floor this year. But
proponents of the bills will be gearing up for next. If successful, they
could force biomedical researchers to go elsewhere.
Lees Summit Sen. Matt Bartles bill SB 765, which would criminalize
somatic cell nuclear transferand an identical bill sponsored in
the Missouri House by St. Louis Rep. Rep. Jim Lembke, HB 1151 would
creation of a human being by any means other than by the fertilization
of a naturally intact oocyte of a human female by a naturally intact sperm
of a human maleessentially criminalizing somatic cell nuclear
Anyone participating in such an act or using public funds and public facilities
for such purposes of human cloning would be guilty of a Class B felony.
Stowers Institute for Biomedical Research in Kansas City. (Photo
by Mike Sinclair, courtesy the Stowers Institute)
The legislation would inhibit biomedical research in the
state, says Dr. William Neaves, president and CEO of Stowers Institute
for Medical Research in Kansas City, MO. Already; the threat of such legislation
has had a chilling effect.
We strongly support the ability to do somatic cell nuclear transfer
research in Missouri, Neaves says. The Institute and governing
board believe that that avenue or research is so important that if it
became illegal to do research in Missouri, the Institute would not be
able to fulfill its desire to confine the future growth of the Institute
Rose Windmiller, head of government relations at Washington University,
says that her institution stands against any legislation that would stand
in the way of bio-med research that includes somatic cell nuclear transfer.
The University is the other major medical research institution in Missouri
currently doing stem cell research.
Presently, scientists at Washington University and the Stowers Institute
rely on chick embryos, fish, cat, mice, sea urchins, and yeast for their
research. According to Stowers, humans have genetic make-ups similar to
these model species. These species genes, however, tend to mutate more
quickly than their human counterparts, making them useful in studying
the way disease affects different parts of the genome.
One of the most important researchers in the field, Dr. John W. McDonald,
now has his lab at Washington University. His influential work has included
the successful use of stem cell therapies on spinal cord injuries in mice.
Among McDonalds patients is actor Christopher Reeve. Another Washington
University researcher, Steve Titelbaum has founded a biotech company.
Moreover, while adult stem cells are good for treating some diseases,
particularly those of the blood, embryonic stems cells, or those produced
by somatic cell nuclear transfer, are thought to useful for a wide range
of diseases, and tissue and organ repair. Adult stem cells dont
reproduce well in the laboratory, but stems cells extracted from the blastocyst
of a somatic cell tend to reproduce quickly and for a long time.
Bartle has introduced his legislation in the Senate two years running.
Lembke took over a bill this year that been introduced in the house for
several years. Both say they will introduce their bills again when the
legislature reconvenes in the fall.
The stakes are high in a debate that pits medical researchers who argue
that embryonic stem cell research holds the key to curing disease against
religious anti-abortion and pro-life advocates. Opponents see even the
prospects of creating stem cells with somatic, or adult cells, from donors
for use in those same donors as the creation of individual life. Trading
even one human life, opponents argue, isnt worth the return in moneyfederal,
state, local, and private.
Bartle and Lembke have serious backers. The Missouri Catholic Conference
and Missouri Right to Life have both come out strongly in favor of their
legislation. Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Leo Burke, who has spoken
out strongly in his previous post in La Crosse, WI, has made it known
already that he believes Missouri should take the lead in outlawing somatic
cell nuclear transfer, regardless of what good may come of the research
or jobs or money to the state.
We can never justify doing something seriously wrong to achieve
a good end, Archbishop Burke said in an interview in the Archdiocese
of St. Louis Catholic Center. It concerns me a great deal that there
would be funds coming to the state that could help people. But what we
must do as citizens is insist on the provision of public funds for those
in need without being coerced into a practice that we believe is intrinsically
Even if the whole of society, 49 states of the union all think this
is fine, we still have to insist in our own home stateand hopefully
this would be understood in the wider nationthat this is a human
life and demands respect and protection.
Neaves and other researchers, however, believe that the cell produced
in somatic cell nuclear transfer is essentially that of the donor. The
importance of the procedure to the Institute and other facilities like
it is that once certain processes for prevention and cure or disease are
more clearly understood, therapies using cells produced with a donors
own DNA can avoid existing problems with immune reaction and rejection.
We could envision recruiting who would wish to work with human stem
cells grown in a petri dish generated by somatic cell nuclear transfer,
says Neaves. We do not have such a person at the Institute at this
time. But we believe this line of research holds so much promise, holds
so much potential for the relief of human suffering that we believe its
extremely important to preserve an environment in Missouri where this
kind of work can be done.
The Stowers Institute has become a powerful economic engine in Kansas
City. After their own close calls with cancer, American Century Companies
founder Jim Stowers and his wife Virginia founded the Institute in 1994.
Funded with an separate endowment financed, in part, by American Century
Investments, the Institute bought and refurbished a midtown Kansas City
hospital whose clientele had moved to the suburbs, spending nearly $300
million on the 10 acre campus, facility, and parking garage.
The Stowers endowment is worth now about $1.7 billion, says Neaves. The
endowment is slated to grow with the concurrently with American Century
Investments. The Institute spends 3.5 percent of its value each year on
basic biomedical research in its facilities, conducted by its employees.
Within the next five years, the Institute board plans to build a second
facility at least as large and as expensive as the first.
Currently, the Institute employs 250 scientists, researchers, assistants,
and maintenance personnel, with that number expanding to 600 as the facility
nears capacity. A second facility would employ a similar number of people.
In addition, fifteen Stowers scientists hold faculty appointments at the
University of Kansas, and three at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,
across the street from the Stowers laboratories. Some eighteen Ph.D. graduate
students conduct dissertation research at the Institute and 46 postdoctoral
fellows pursue advanced research training there.
Moreover, the city of Kansas City, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of
Commerce, the Kansas City Civic Council, and the Kansas City Downtown
Council have pinned hopes for multi-billion life-sciences hub in the city
around Stowers, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, area hospitals,
pharmaceutical research, development, and manufacturing firms, and other
Should the Missouri General Assembly pass a bill that limits somatic cell
nuclear transfer, Stowers would consider very seriously growing
the Institute in jurisdictions that are favorably disposed to this kind
of research, says Neaves.
Such states include New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California. Other states,
including Louisiana, Illinois, and Delaware have legislation pending or
have legislative sponsors who, like Bartle and Lembke on the anti-cloning
side, intend to keep trying to make somatic cell nuclear transfer legal.
So, at the time when some states are actively encouraging this kind
of research, says Neaves, for Missouri to criminalize it is a prospect
that we view with great alarm.
Already, the Institute has taken note of states that are friendlier toward
stem cell research with somatic cell nuclear transfer. The Institute will
go wherever it must, Neaves says, as much as he, Jim and Virginia Stowers,
and Institute personnel dont want that to happen.
The multi-billion American Century Investments was founded in Kansas City
in 1958. The firm is based mile from the Stowers Institute in Kansas City,
on stem cell research nationwide
by Patrick Dobson
- In January, New Jersey passed legislation passed legislation that
outlawed reproductive cloning but specifically encouraged somatic cell
nuclear transfer research for regenerative medicine. California passed
that kind of legislation eighteen months in 2002. Bills before the Massachusetts
legislature would mirror the efforts of New Jersey and California.
- The Louisiana Senate, which once banned human cloning altogether,
has advanced a bill out of committee that would criminalize reproductive
cloning and allow therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer
for the generation of stem cells. A similar bill passed the House on
a vote of 55-42. It now awaits a joint resolution that will go before
both houses for a vote.
- A reproductive cloning ban that would have encouraged biomedical
research with somatic cell nuclear transfer died in a deadlocked Illinois
Senate May 12, 28-28. Its backers will try again when the legislature
convenes again in the fall.
- At the end of April, Robert Venables of the Delaware Senate withdrew
a bill he sponsored that would have allowed stem cell research from
somatic cell nuclear transfer. While science was behind stem cell research,
he said, election-year pressures prevented him from pushing the bill,
which had the backing of some scientists and biomedical research companies.
Catholic and other church and anti-abortion groups lobbied against the
- In the second week of May, 206 members of the U.S. House of Representatives
signed a letter asking President Bush to allow funding of research on
embryos that would normally be discarded from fertility clinics. The
letters signers included three dozen pro-life advocates convinced
stem cell research should move forward after the Juvenile Diabetes Research
Foundation sent patients to visit legislators on Capitol Hill.
- In April, Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs stated in
a pastoral letter that Catholics who vote for politicians who support
pro-choice legislation, stem cell research, euthanasia, or same sex
marriage should not present themselves for Holy Eucharist. While there
was no way for a priest to know how a parishioner has voted, he said,
it was a matter of Catholic teaching and not politics that moved him
to speak publicly on the matter.
- At the same time, Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick has stated
he does not favor using communion as a sanction for voting their consciences,
and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said John Kerry would be
welcome to receive the Eucharist in his diocese.
- The NIH reported in late February that at least 16 of the 78 approved
stem cell lines had died or failed to reproduce in their lab environments,
making them useless for research, and that a majority of the rest would
likely come to the same fate. When a colony of stem cells crashes, or
dies, it cannot be replaced under the Bush Administrations restrictions
developed on embryonic stem cell research. The restrictions allowed
research on existed stem cell lines derived from material from aborted
or miscarried fetuses but would not allow more to be developed in the
same manner. Many of the approved stem cell lines have developed cancers
or genetic abnormalities akin to genetic mutations that make them useless
for research or therapy.