Missouri, Illinois Locked in Stem-Cell Battle
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
An offer from the governor of Illinois has surprised doctors and scientists involved in stem-cell research in neighboring Missouri. Governor Rod Blagojevich wrote to tell them about $10 million in available grants and to invite them to bring their work to his state. Missouri Governor Matt Blunt quickly responded with his own letter saying that he'll continue to fight efforts in the Missouri Legislature to ban stem-cell research. NPR's Greg Allen has more from Kansas City.
GREG ALLEN reporting:
In the Midwest, Missouri has emerged as a leader in life science research. In St. Louis, for example, scientists at Washington University have pioneered cutting-edge work on spinal-cord injuries using stem cells. But at the same time, there are many in Missouri who oppose experimentation that uses embryonic stem cells. In each of the last three years, the state Legislature has taken up a bill that would ban use of a cloning procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Because of that, Abby Ottenhoff, a spokesperson for the Illinois governor, says Missouri researchers may want to shop around.
Ms. ABBY OTTENHOFF (Spokesperson for Illinois Governor): We just wanted to let the scientists, researchers in Missouri to know Illinois is committing public funds to this kind of research and we welcome their expertise here.
ALLEN: As far as research money goes, the $10 million in Illinois isn't much, especially when compared with the $3 billion fund set up by the state of California. But even more than the money, the invitation says a lot about the different political climates in the two states. Missouri's governor, Matt Blunt, worked quickly to dispel any notion that his state does not support stem-cell research, even that which uses cloning. He sent a letter to researchers thanking them for their work and reiterating a pledge to veto any legislation that would ban somatic cell nuclear transfer. Blunt considers himself one of the nation's most staunchly pro-life governors. He sees no conflict between that position and his support for embryonic stem-cell research.
Governor MATT BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): I'm pro-life. I believe in the sanctity of human life. At the same time, I believe that we ought to allow responsible scientific research to occur. And the procedure in question doesn't involve the fertilization of an egg and, in my mind, then, doesn't really involve conception.
ALLEN: Bill Duncan, CEO of the Kansas City Life Sciences Institute, says doctors and scientists were pleased by Governor Blunt's letter assuring them of his support. The uncertain research climate in Missouri has already led one research organization, the Kansas City-based Stowers Institute, to defer plans for an expansion. And research groups in the state recently formed a coalition to fight efforts to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. It's not clear how many scientists may seriously be considering Blagojevich's offer. Duncan says the bigger danger to research institutions is the impact the political climate in Missouri may have on recruiting.
Mr. BILL DUNCAN (CEO, Kansas City Life Sciences Institute): It's a recruiting war out there, and we're involved in that war, if you will. We have to maintain an environment here that's conducive to attraction of these kinds of scientists.
ALLEN: In Missouri, it's anti-abortion groups that are leading the fight against embryonic stem-cell research, ironically, the same groups that were among Blunt's biggest supporters when he was elected governor last year. Patty Skain is the executive director of Missouri Right to Life.
Ms. PATTY SKAIN (Executive Director, Missouri Right to Life): Just because you're anti-abortion doesn't make you pro-life. He refuses to acknowledge that somatic cell nuclear transfer creates a human being and that embryonic stem-cell research would destroy that human being, so he doesn't consider that a life issue. We do.
ALLEN: Despite Governor Blunt's letter and his support for stem-cell research, the annual battles in Missouri's Legislature show no sign of going away. In a special session, the Legislature recently passed new restrictions on abortion. Now that's done, Skain says for pro-life groups in Missouri, the number-one priority is stopping embryonic stem-cell research. Greg Allen, NPR News, Kansas City.
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