Rep. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said the original November ballot issue establishing a constitutional right for stem-cell research was approved because of "creative marketing" and contains a loophole that voters were not aware of at the ballot box.
"Not all cloning was banned, and that's the way this was sold to the people of Missouri," Lembke told the House Health Policy Committee.
At issue is somatic cell nuclear transfer, a procedure that is protected by the initiative, but which Lembke and others say is tantamount to cloning and destroys human life. A resolution proposed by Lembke would make the procedure illegal.
But the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, a group that pushed for the passage of the Stem Cell Initiative, argued that such a move would run counter to the public's desires and thwart promising research.
"What this resolution would do is cut off one avenue of finding cures," Donn Rubin, chairman of the coalition, told the committee. "Missouri voters have spoken and it is a shame that a vocal minority want to undo the will of the people," he added after the meeting.
Committee Member Judy Baker, D-Columbia, said she is opposed to Lembke's resolution, which would be subject to voter approval if it passes the legislature. "My position would be to support the constitutional amendment already ratified by the voters," Baker said.
She said the passage of the Stem Cell Initiative was a sufficient test of whether the public wants to allow somatic cell nuclear transfer and questioned whether it is necessary to "[break] out specifics in the constitution about which procedures are allowable and what isn't."
Lembke assured the committee that his resolution does not repeal the Stem Cell Initiative, but instead "fulfills the promise that was put forth to the people...that it truly does ban human cloning."
Somatic cell nuclear transfer involves transferring an adult cell into an unfertilized egg and then harvesting it for research. Opponents say that if the egg were implanted, it would develop to create a child.
Legislators and doctors sparred in committee over when life begins and whether somatic cell nuclear transfer destroys a human being.
In a Power Point presentation to the committee, Dr. Franz Whipple, a radiologist, said that the processes for somatic cell nuclear transfer and cloning are identical. "You can slice it, you can dice it, you can do anything to the word game, but SCNT is cloning."
But Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, took issue with how the resolution's supporters defined human life, considering it too broad . "If I sneeze, if you put that sneeze under a magnifying glass, there is life there," he said.
Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, a professor at Washington University St. Louis, echoed Kuessner's sentiments. He said he did not believe that somatic cell nuclear transfer destroyed human life and that if the state is not allowed to pursue it, "Missouri will be a backwater."
Given the disagreement over the implications of the process, Lembke pushed for erring on the side of caution. "Our constitutional responsibility is first and foremost to protect life, and when in doubt, let's protect that life," he said.
The committee took no action Tuesday on the resolution.