Missouri Ballot Language Upheld
This is one of two prominent stories today. A brief AP story in the Columbia Missourian
reports that a state appeals court ruled yesterday in favor of the defendants, allowing the language of a proposed ballot initiative protecting stem cell research to stand. Cole County Senior Judge Byron had previously ruled (see Blog Post of 1-20-06
) that the ballot “was sufficient and fair and the language neutral.” His ruling was appealed by the plaintiffs, opponents of the measure. The Kansas City Star
gives substantially more details:
The appeals court ruled 2-1 that the ballot measure would prohibit human reproductive cloning and that the summary language was adequate. I’m going to quote a bit here from the article so as not to misrepresent things.
The court ruling, written by Judge Victor Howard of Kansas City, rejected that analysis. The law allows the sponsors of the initiative to set definitions, Howard wrote. The initiative clearly defines cloning as attempts to bring a cloned human to birth, and it bans such attempts, the court said.
“Appellants’ real dispute seems not so much with the summary statement as it is with the initiative’s definition of human cloning,” the decision said, adding that the definition was supported by evidence introduced at trial.
“Ultimately, appellants ask us to choose their definition of human cloning over that set out in the initiative. We decline."
Judge James Smart Jr. agreed that the initiative’s summary was adequate to gather signatures. But he dissented over the wording of the summary that will appear on ballots. The problem, Smart wrote, is that the phrase “human cloning” has become a shibboleth –– a phrase used to identify which side of the stem-cell debate a person is on.
Some voters might define a laboratory technique used to copy cells as human cloning. Therefore, to allow the ballot to say that the initiative bans human cloning would be misleading to voters who are philosophically opposed to all such laboratory techniques, Smart wrote.
Without reading the whole decision, I do find myself in agreement with Smart that the phrase “human cloning” is a contentious one. It’s a situation where the vernacular is less precise than the scientific. However, since cloning is defined by the measure, and not left up to the vernacular, there’s no reason the initiative should be seen as ambiguous. Voters have a responsibility to educate themselves about what they are voting on, especially if it is an issue that matters to them a lot on philosophical or ethical grounds. If a ban on therapeutic cloning is important to you, read the whole initiative, not just the summary.
The whole debates would be helped along substantially if the media would use the phrases “embryonic stem cell” or “non-embryonic stem cells” in their headlines, and similarly with “reproductive cloning” and “therapeutic cloning,” instead of just “cloning.” Things get mushed together.
Of course opponents would say that the techniques for therapeutic cloning and for reproductive cloning are the same, and so should be banned. But I think it’s important to make intent transparent when possible.
And what is wrong with reproductive cloning? Is it because it’s not natural? Lots of things we do aren’t “natural,” whatever natural means. Is it because the cloned person would probably have significant health problems and it would be immoral to bring such a person into the world? (In that case, isn’t it immoral not to have an abortion when the fetus has significant birth defects/genetic disorders?) Is it because it’s an evolutionary bad idea not to mingle DNA and we respond to this on a preconscious, instinctual level by thinking “yuck” about passing on identical DNA the same way we feel about incest? Is it because there have been so many science fiction stories and movies that presented cloning as evil throughout the last century that it is now permeated into our culture? Yes, I am setting up straw men here, but I think it’s important to consider where our prejudices, abhorrences, and oppositions come from instead of living in them unquestioningly.
I will say clearly here that I am not in favor of reproductive cloning, largely because it seems to me an act of unbridled egoism, to try to reproduce oneself. I also think it’s wasteful—of time, of money, of energy. Frankly, I also have an issue with spending lots of money on in-vitro fertility procedures to have a genetically related child when there are so many children living in poverty and need who could be adopted (or helped by that same money—how many vaccinations against common childhood diseases could save lives in underdeveloped nations with the cost of one in-vitro?). We need to stop thinking about the propagation of our own genes, which is what drives animals, and think about the quality of life of all persons.
Wow, this turned into a sermon. Sorry about that, folks….
P.S. I edited this slightly the day after the original post.