When Missouri's elected representatives arrive to work for the 2005 legislative session this week, they will have their hands full of material about the ethics and implications of a proposed statewide ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
The material includes a letter and background information from Rep. Jim Lembke (R), one of the bill's originators, describing what he says are the advantages of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells and the ethical problems with both reproductive and therapeutic cloning.
However, leaders from Missouri research institutions have also sent their own letter to legislators, urging them to ban reproductive cloning but not SCNT, a step they argue would undermine the state's entire life science industry. The letter, sent last month, is signed by William H. Danforth, chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis; Elson Floyd, president of the University of Missouri System; William Neaves, president of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City; and Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.
Rep. Lembke told
Each year, the process has to start all over again, Lembke said, adding that he plans to file the bill during the first week of the upcoming session, beginning January 5. He predicted it would once again receive a majority of support, and this time, it would pass. "I think that there's going to be a real effort… to move this bill much sooner," he said.
If legislators approve this bill, it could do "grave harm to research institutions across the state," Stowers' Neaves told
In the letter distributed to legislators, the scientists also argue that a statewide ban on SCNT could deprive Missouri citizens of access to the treatments and cures that come out of embryonic stem cell research conducted outside the state, forcing them to settle for "second-class healthcare."
Neaves explained that he and his colleagues plan to continue to discuss SCNT with Missouri legislators to dispel misconceptions and to persuade them of its benefits. "The more people know about this research procedure and understand its potential to relieve human suffering, the more supportive they become," he said.
Neaves added that he, too, is optimistic. "Many Missouri legislators now feel comfortable endorsing somatic cell nuclear transfer," he said.
Ursula Goodenough, a professor of biology at Washington University, who is not participating in the drive to educate legislators about stem cell research, said that after California voters chose to allow embryonic stem cell research in the state in the last election, people are paying more attention to the debate. "This is the first year where states are trying to assert themselves independently," she told
Goodenough noted that the ban would certainly have a "negative" effect on research in Missouri. But for now, whether it will finally pass this year remains unclear. "We don't know how it will play out," she said.