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Mitt Romney Exposes Stem Cell Duplicity
February 15, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

It looks as if Mitt Romney's got the Massachusetts biotech firms and cloning lobbyists in a laboratory lather.

Evidently, the Massachusetts governor recently advised the state Legislature that the cloning of human beings is not an activity that decent people should support.

Romney was responding to Democrat leaders in the Legislature who had introduced a bill to promote embryonic stem cell research. The gutsy gov characterized the bill to allow the use of stem cells, including those from embryos created specifically for medical research, as "a bit like the old bait and switch."

Romney's hit 'em where it hurts. What he's done is shone the ethical spotlight on an insidiously resourceful little word game that's going on, where the purveyors of pluripotent perplexity are attempting to dupe the public.

Cloning proponents and their wild-eyed scientist buddies are aware that most Americans would be appalled to hear of the macabre plans to grow people in labs. But, in an effort to disguise their true intentions, they're practicing the low art of language deception.

Here on the Left Coast we saw the same antics with semantics being used in the battle to pass Proposition 71. The Prop 71 advocates understood that the majority of people found the concept of cloning to be repugnant, so the only time the "C" word showed up in the language of the initiative was when talking about a ban on "reproductive cloning."

However, another part of the initiative did mention that the research, which taxpayers were being asked to foot the bill for, included the use of "pluripotent stem cells" that could be "derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer."

In case you're wondering, according to the President's Council on Bioethics, somatic cell nuclear transfer is just a fancy word for ­ you guessed it ­ cloning.

Since somatic cell nuclear transfer involves the reproduction of a human being, it turns out to be the very same process of reproductive cloning that Prop 71 claims to have banned. Fans of weird science made California voters think Prop 71 was anti-cloning, when in fact it actually included a constitutional right to clone.

Slick doesn't begin to describe the underhanded approach. And now Big Biotech is trying to replicate the whole strategy in Massachusetts.

Apparently, they're not going to get away with it if Romney can help it. The governor wrote a letter to Senate President Robert E. Travaglini in which he noted that adult stem cell and umbilical stem cell research "should continue with no further restriction" because unlike embryonic stem cell research, they are "already yielding therapies" and showing "extraordinary medical promise."

Romney also wrote that with certain safeguards, he would permit research on stem cells taken from embryos, which would otherwise be disposed of at fertility clinics. This would make an extraordinary number of stem cell lines available. But, not surprisingly, the pro-cloning stem cell lobby doesn't seem to be all that keen on stem cell lines of the non-cloned kind.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Romney expressed his deep concerns. "My wife has M.S., and we would love for there to be a cure for her disease and for the diseases of others," he told the newspaper. "But there is an ethical boundary that should not be crossed."

Romney's stand has also sparked a dialogue about whether cloning for stem cell research is actually legal. Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, who spoke out in support of the bill, claimed that this kind of research is not illegal. "The suggestion by the governor that embryonic stem cell research is illegal in Massachusetts is incorrect," Coakley said.

Still, some legislation in the 1970s that prohibited fetal experimentation is casting some serious doubt over the legality of reproducing human beings in a laboratory for the purposes of harvesting their stem cells. As a matter of fact, one of sponsors of the bill in question, State Sen. Cindy Creem, has said that legal questions have forced stem cell researchers at none other than Harvard University to spend money in order to prove to prosecutors that their work was not illegal.

Only two states (California and New Jersey) now explicitly allow so-called therapeutic cloning. Three other states (Missouri, Virginia and Rhode Island) forbid reproductive cloning but do not address the issue of therapeutic cloning, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization. And several other states have proposals to ban cloning altogether.

If the research being contemplated by the Massachusetts bill were carried out in Canada, scientists involved would spend the next five years in jail; in France, the result would be seven years in the clink. And if attempted in Australia, Norway, Switzerland or Germany, similar types of legal repercussions would be triggered.

If the peace-loving, humanitarian-espousing Canadians and Europeans think this research ought to be a crime, maybe the state that's home to Harvard, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy ought to follow suit.

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Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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