Saturday, April 09, 2005

Has anyone in your family suffered from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, MS, sickle cell disease, ALS, or a spinal cord injury? If so, you belong to the more than half of Missouri families who could potentially be helped by stem cell research. Nevertheless, Missouri Right to Life, the most powerful grassroots lobby in the state, is dead set against it. They threatened Republican legislators who've opposed abortion with downgrading them from an A to an F if they voted against the stem cell research ban. Considering that threat, it's surprising how many Republicans opposed the ban. The stakes had to be high for them to risk offending MRL.
Public opinion in this state soundly favors stem cell research by a margin of two to one. That polling data has motivated Republicans to step out on a limb and dare MRL to chop it off. The other motivator is economic. The human genome project has put Washington University on the high tech scientific map. Even science students who don't necessarily plan to study genetics are attracted to Wash. U. (and St. Louis U.) as a result of that kind of reputation. We've got to be graduating those high quality science students if we hope to lure biotech firms to this area, and biotech is the economic wave of the future. Blunt and other Republicans know that. In fact, Sam Fox, a local businessman and the biggest G.O.P. contributor in the state, is disgusted with the anti-science bent of this legislature. Fox contributes money to the science department at Wash. U. and spoke with disgust recently of "religious zealots".
The stem cell ban is dead--for this year, anyway. But the rift it created in the Republican party may have repercussions. The legislators who dreaded offending MRL with their stem cell vote must be heaving a sigh of relief that the bill got shelved. And in fact, some Democrats were hoping for a vote on it just to put those people on the spot and create dissension in G.O.P. ranks. But Republicans who opposed the ban didn't completely dodge the bullet. They got grazed, because the only way to avoid a vote on the issue was to stand up against it during the floor debate and make it obvious that the bill would fail.
This bill ought never to have been proposed. Even though it didn't pass and won't pass, it has a chilling effect on biotech companies looking to locate here. Who wants to be a scientist in Dogpatch? There is an upside, though. Not only is the bill dead meat, it has opened a rift in the state G.O.P. Hallelujah, and let's hope it grows.


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