Medicine Politics Science Sports

Another reason to hope that the Tigers crush the Cardinals tonight (as if one were needed): Jeff Suppan on stem cell research

This one’s for you, Afarensis (all in good fun, of course–well, for the most part, anyway):

Here’s Jeff Suppan, pitcher for the Cardinals (who, it just so happens, will be starting game four of the World Series tonight) appearing prominently along with Patricia Heaton, Jim Caviezel, and other celebrities in a predictably lame “response” ad to the ad that Michael J. Fox made supporting the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Claire McCaskill. Fox made the original ad because McCaskill supports removing the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that destroys embryos to create new lines of stem cells. She also supports an amendment to the Missouri State Constitution that allows state funding of stem cell research in which new stem cell lines are derived from leftover embryos from fertility clinics:

In the video, Suppan claims that this amendment somehow “makes cloning a constitutional right.” I’ve read the text of the bill. Can someone explain how it “makes cloning a constitutional right”? In fact, it bans human cloning. There it is in Section 38(d)2:

(1) No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being.

(2) No human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research.

Definitions are:

6. As used in this section, the following terms have the following meanings:

(1) “Blastocyst” means a small mass of cells that results from cell division, caused either by fertilization or somatic cell nuclear transfer, that has not been implanted in a uterus.

(2) “Clone or attempt to clone a human being” means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being.

There’s nothing in the amendment that “makes cloning a ‘constitutional right.'” What the proposed amendment does do is to make explicit the rules under which embryonic stem cell research may be conducted and to allow the development of new stem cell lines primarily from unused blastocysts left over from attempts at in vitro fertilization. Yet here are these idiots trying to scare viewers into thinking that this amendment will somehow lead to greedy fertility clinics paying poor women just to get their eggs to make blastocysts from which to harvest stem cells. (Or maybe they think they’ll bribe poor women into undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments under a false diagnosis of infertility, just to make stem cells.) In this, Patricia Heaton’s segment is particularly odious. In fact, given the disconnect between what she says and what the law says, she is clearly full of bovine feces. The proposed amendment clearly states:

(4) No person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human blastocysts or eggs for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures.

(5) Human blastocysts and eggs obtained for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures must have been donated with voluntary and informed consent, documented in writing.

Valuable consideration is defined:

17) “Valuable consideration” means financial gain or advantage, but does not include reimbursement for reasonable costs incurred in connection with the removal, processing, disposal, preservation, quality control, storage, transfer, or donation of human eggs, sperm, or blastocysts, including lost wages of the donor. Valuable consideration also does not include the consideration paid to a donor of human eggs or sperm by a fertilization clinic or sperm bank, as well as any other consideration expressly allowed by federal law.

In other words, the amendment specifically bans the sale of human eggs or blastocysts for the purpose of stem cell research while continuing to allow payment for sperm donors or egg donors who donate to fertility clinics. It’s almost exactly the opposite of what Patricia Heaton claims, meaning the overblown claims about how dangerous donating eggs is are nothing more than a blatant and transparent attempt to frighten and enrage voters.

What opponents seem to be harping on is the fact that the bill permits somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT, sometimes called “therapeutic cloning”), as opposed to reproductive cloning, in which the purpose of the research is to produce a clone of a human being. As the AAMC states:

Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) or therapeutic cloning involves removing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell, replacing it with the material from the nucleus of a “somatic cell” (a skin, heart, or nerve cell, for example), and stimulating this cell to begin dividing. Once the cell begins dividing, stem cells can be extracted 5-6 days later and used for research. The AAMC supports on-going research into SCNT and has endorsed legislation that would allow such research to flourish.

Reproductive cloning, on the other hand, is intended to create human beings by cloning human embryos. The AAMC and the National Academy of Sciences recommend a ban on all forms of this type of cloning.

SCNT can be the first step in reproductive cloning in theory, but in reality it is proposed in humans for potential therapy:

Embryonic stem cells are created by performing somatic cell nuclear transfer using a somatic cell (usually a skin cell) from the patient or research subject. They are harvested when the egg has undergone cell division and formed a blastocyst. The resulting cells would be, ideally, genetically identical to the original, allowing doctors to tailor stem cell treatments to individual patients avoiding any complications from immune system rejection.

It’s always amusing to watch sports stars and celebrities stick their feet in their mouths, but in this particular case it’s sad and pathetic, too. I’m not going to dismiss the ethical considerations of therapeutic cloning (nor, actually, am I all that enamored of enshrining the protection of this particular form of research in a state constitution when passing a simple law would do), but the considerations are different than for reproductive cloning. Creating short-lived genetically identical stem cells is different than trying to clone a human being, and all this amendment does is to permit the former. (For one thing, SCNT involves placing the nucleus of an adult cell into an egg whose nucleus has been removed; theologically if one believes that the embryo becomes human and becomes “ensouled” at the moment of conception, it is hard to imagine the same process happening when an adult nucleus is injected into an egg lacking a nucleus.) It most certainly does not create a “right” to cloning, as the makers of the ad claim. Indeed, they must know damned well that when terms like a “right to cloning” are used people will think of Brave New World or The Boys from Brazil, not of making a short-lived blastocyst with the purpose of harvesting genetically identical stem cells. Clearly the makers of this ad are counting on the ignorance of most voters about stem cell research, because anyone who is even somewhat knowledgeable about it and bothers to read the bill will see right through this ad. If I believed in karma, I would guess that karma should demand that Suppan lose (and lose big) tonight for associating himself with such blatantly deceptive propaganda.

(Via Reason Hit and Run.)

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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