700 anti-cloning lobbyists flood the Missouri capitol
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
JEFFERSON CITY - More than 700 strong and wearing red, Missouri pro-lifers swarmed over the state capitol March 8 to let lawmakers know that they can't call themselves pro-life and not vote to ban human cloning.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn speaks with Sen. Matt Bartle of Lee's Summit, sponsor of a bill that wound ban human cloning in Missouri.
They even had sharp words for Gov. Matt Blunt, who has publicly opposed bills to ban human cloning that have been introduced in each house of the Missouri General Assembly.
"He was elected into office because he said he was pro-life," said Ellen Newman, of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raytown. "We expect him to follow through."
Newman was one of a busload of Kansas City-area Catholics who rose before dawn to ride halfway across the state to send a clear message to their elected officials.
The special "Lobby Day" was arranged by a coalition of 17 pro-life groups in the state, including the Missouri Catholic Conference.
Sen. Matt Bartle, a Lee's Summit Republican whose bill to ban cloning is expected to be debated soon by the full Senate, said the effort was encouraging, though he admitted that the odds of his bill becoming law were "small."
"I wish I had a day like this once a week," Bartle said as he watched pro-lifers pigeon-hole their senators as the morning session ended.
But Bartle noted that powerful special interests, including the chambers of commerce in both Kansas City and St. Louis as well as Kansas City's Stowers Institute, a medical research laboratory, are spending big money to defeat his bill.
"Whenever money is against you, you face small odds," Bartle said.
Bartle is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That committee on Feb. 14 sent his cloning ban bill, SB 160, to the full Senate with a "do pass" recommandation.
Deacon Larry Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said that with Blunt's public opposition, any attempt to ban human cloning would face a difficult time in the Missouri House of Representatives, where Republican leadership is poised to bottle any cloning ban in committee without ever letting the full House debate and vote on it.
The only chance a ban on cloning would have to become law, Deacon Weber said, is through a sustained grassroots effort and a massive public education campaign concerning cloning and its companion issue, embryonic stem cell research.
Also pleased with the turnout was Pam Fichter, president of Missouri Right to Life.
"We are pleased not just with the turnout, but with the number of pro-life groups involved," she said. "This shows what we can do when we are united in a common cause."
During the day, Dr. John Morris of Rockhurst University presented three non-stop one-hour seminars on the scientific and moral issues surrounding cloning and embryonic stem cell research. His seminars in a Senate committee hearing room were packed to standing room, with more than 100 people at each one.
"Just a normal Tuesday for me," said Morris, who has been appointed special advisor to Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Raymond J. Boland and Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn. "I usually go from 9:30 (a.m.) to 12:30 (p.m.)" teaching philosophy classes at Rockhurst.
Morris' presentation hit on the major arguments against cloning which has the purpose of producing human embryos and killing them to harvest their stem cells for medical research.
Among Morris' arguments:
There is no scientific debate about whether cloning produces a human life. The National Bioethics Advisory Committee, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Health have all stated that human embryos produced by cloning, or "somatic cell nuclear transfer," are human beings.
Despite lofty promises of curing a wide array of human diseases, embryonic stem-cell research has not produced a single cure of any disease - not even in laboratory animals. Meanwhile, research using stem cells harvested without killing from adults, or from the blood present in umbilical cords after birth, have successfully been used to treat humans suffering from 56 different diseases, including Parkinson's disease and leukemia.
Embryonic stem cell research using cells harvested from human clones is draining precious research funds away from more promising adult stem cell research. This is because that possible cures for diseases using embryonic stem cell lines can be patented, while cures involving the stem cells a patient's own body produces cannot be. Such cures from a patented source would be worth billions to the patent holders.
Morris said the crowds at his seminars "overwhelmed me."
"I was pleased to see this many people so interested and involved," he said. "This has to be a grassroots effort with people getting educated. There are still people who have never even heard of this issue."
Morris's presentation made perfect sense to a group of students from Kansas City's St. Pius X High school.
About 20 students involved in sponsor Karen Kissinger's Pro-Life Group, boarded a bus at 5:30 a.m. to make the trip to Jefferson City to lobby. They aren't of voting age yet, they said, but they soon will be.
"The scientific view can be confusing, but the moral view is not," said Tom DeMarco. "It's human life, no matter how old it is. It's not right to kill."
"We can't vote," added Samantha Leggett. "But we can talk to them, and we can have our input in how they should vote."
Kissinger said this was the first time the St. Pius X Pro-Life Group has become "politically engaged" in an issue before the state legislature. The group prays frequently, and does various fund-raising projects to benefit such agencies as crisis pregnancy centers and adoption services.
On April 30, the group is pulling together a "Pro-Life Auto Show" featuring sports cars and classic cars on the St. Pius campus.
Those who knocked on their representatives' doors for the most part found a respectful audience.
Catherine Shaughnessy of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Kansas City said that her representative, Rep. Craig Bland of Kansas City, told her, "You've already got my vote."
"He said that when we get into cloning, you open a whole can of worms," she said.
Shaughnessy walked the capital hallways with Dee Harkins and Mary Quinn, Harkins' grown daughter, both of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City.
Quinn said that Rep. Cathy Jolly of Kansas City also indicated she would vote in favor of a ban on all human cloning if it ever reached the House floor.
"She said she didn't like cloning at all," Quinn said. "She said she also had a lot of contact with people who were in favor of cloning, but we were the first people she talked to who were opposed to it."
Father Joseph Totton, associate pastor of Christ the King Parish, said he and his companions, Mike and Therese Ismert, and their children Gabe and Jesse, were told by Sen. Charles B. Wheeler that cloning produces an "alien life form" because it does not involve fertilization between a sperm and egg.
"He said if it doesn't have a father and mother, it's an 'alien life form,'" Father Totton said. "I didn't agree with him."
Shaughnessy said that deciding which life is human and which is not is like "walking on the edge of a cliff."
"It just makes no sense to me at all to walk along the edge of a cliff to see how close you can come without falling off," Shaughnessy said. "This debate is about using the life of one person to help another person, and that first person has to be killed."
"We're very pro-life," said Mary Crushshon of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raytown.
"We want everyone to respect the fact that life begins at conception and should have the dignity God intended it to have," she said. "Life should not be used as a commodity for other purposes, especially for profit."
Kansas City-St. Joseph Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn also gave his presence and voice to the Lobby Day effort, personally thanking Sen. Bartle for introducing the Senate bill, and talking to every lawmaker he could contact.
He noted that the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) process that will be used to produce human embryos for their stem cells also produced the famous cloned sheep, Dolly, and no one questions whether Dolly is a sheep or not.
"As soon as it becomes a unique, growing organism, science calls it a human embryo," Bishop Finn said. "SCNT does not produce stem cells. It produces a human embryo. They have to destroy the embryo to get the stem cells. They don't want pig embryos. They want human embryos" for their stem cells.
Bishop Finn also said that it would be wrong to misinterpret the clear position of the Catholic Church on the matter of cloning and embryonic stem cell research as "anti-science."
In fact, he said, the church not only morally supports more research involving adult stem cells, such research is underway in church-sponsored hospitals and universities.
"It's unfortunate that they are willing to sacrifice a whole generation of science (in adult stem cell research) because this process (embryonic stem-cell research) will generate millions and millions of dollars," Bishop Finn said. "But at least they will know where we are coming from."