Where they stand: Talent, McCaskill on stem cell research


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's two most costly and passionately contested campaigns this fall involve a stem cell research ballot initiative and the U.S. Senate race. So perhaps it's not too surprising that there is some overlap.

Republican Sen. Jim Talent and Democratic challenger State Auditor Claire McCaskill have come down on opposite sides of the proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing that all federally allowed stem cell research _ including on embryos _ can occur in Missouri.

They also have taken opposing positions on the congressional effort _ vetoed by President Bush _ to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Missouri's Senate race will be on the top of the Nov. 7 ballot. The stem cell initiative will appear near the bottom. Here, McCaskill and Talent explain their views on stem cell research, from top to bottom:

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Please explain whether or not you think federal funds should be used for embryonic stem cell research.

McCASKILL: I strongly supported the federal legislation that Senator Talent voted against and that President Bush vetoed. This legislation would allow federal resources to be used to develop the lifesaving cures offered through stem cell research. I believe an investment in stem cell research is a crucial step toward improving the lives of those who suffer from debilitating diseases and injuries such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, Sickle Cell Anemia, and spinal cord injuries. If our country is to continue to lead the world in medical research, we must support the most promising research available in the search for cures.

TALENT: I am a strong supporter of stem cell research. I'm strongly opposed to human cloning. In the Senate, I have already supported more than $2.2 billion for adult, umbilical and other types of stem cell research that does not involve the cloning or destruction of human embryos.

AP: Do you agree with President Bush's veto this summer of a bill that would have expanded federally financed research on embryonic stem cells? Why or why not?

McCASKILL: It is hard to understand why President Bush would use his very first veto to stop research on unused embryos currently stored in fertility clinics that would other otherwise be thrown away. How can it be OK to throw away these microscopic embryos but not OK to use them to saves lives? Senator Talent now supports this extreme position. I wholeheartedly disagree with President Bush's extreme position opposing the lifesaving cures of stem cell research. I was honored to deliver the National Democratic Radio Address on this issue in July and I am proud that, as senator I will be one more vote toward an override of that veto.

TALENT: Earlier this year I delivered a speech on the Senate floor in opposition to human cloning and in support of stem cell alternatives that will allow us to get exactly the stem cells we want to relieve human suffering without creating, destroying, or cloning a human embryo. I said during that speech that it appears that the very advances of science that have caused the ethical dilemmas in this area of stem cell research are now providing a solution. The alternatives seek a genuine way forward that all Americans can wholeheartedly endorse. Some of these methods even offer the possibility of obtaining superior stem cells with potential scientific and medical advantages over those that could be obtained by destroying embryos.

In the Senate, I have voted enthusiastically for the alternatives and a prohibition against fetus farms. I voted against the measure to use tax dollars to fund research that requires the destruction of embryos. The federal government has never funded such research before, and that is not a line I wish to cross _ especially since it is possible to fund every type of stem cell research without cloning or destroying human embryos.

AP: Do you support the state ballot initiative to protect federally allowed stem cell research in Missouri? Why or why not?

McCASKILL: I have been consistent on this issue from the beginning. I strongly believe in the lifesaving cures possible through stem cell research and I support the state ballot initiative to protect this research in Missouri. Senator Talent, however, took 203 days after the announcement of the Missouri Cures Initiative ballot language to make up his mind. In the past year, Senator Talent has co-sponsored a bill to criminalize doctors, patients and researchers who support this valuable research, has said that he would not take a position at all on the issue until it made it onto the ballot, and has said he is against federal and state measures to protect stem cell research.

TALENT: I cannot support the initiative because I've always been opposed to human cloning and this measure would make cloning embryos a constitutional right--without regard to medical necessity or changing technology. Missouri would be the only state to write this cloning procedure into its constitution. I respect opposing points of view and encourage every Missourian to consider the moral and scientific issues involved in the ballot initiative and reach their own judgment.

AP: Do you support a form of embryonic stem cell research that involves the cloning procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer? Why or why not?

McCASKILL: I strongly support the lifesaving cures possible through the stem cell research technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and I am confident that the state ballot initiative before the voters in November has all of the necessary safeguards to protect against human cloning. Stem cell research and SCNT are not human cloning. Human cloning requires implantation of a fertilized egg into a womb, an action that is clearly prohibited by the initiative we will vote on in November.

TALENT: I am opposed to cloning human life, including human embryos. SCNT is the process by which science, if successful, would clone human life; it was the procedure used to clone Dolly the sheep. In the Senate, I have strongly supported federal funding for new stem cell research alternatives that don't involve human cloning. The alternatives will produce advances in stem cell biology unlike any current law or pending legislative approach, and they will do so in a way that will sustain moral and social consensus for federal funding of this research.

AP: Do you view lab-dish embryos as a form of early human life? And should those embryos be viewed as having an equal value as children or adults suffering from ailments that some scientists hope could be treated with embryonic stem cells?

McCASKILL: From the well-known names of those who provide leadership for this cause, like Nancy Reagan and Michael J. Fox, to the lesser known names of those who wait for the cures, like Michael from St. Louis who suffers from Sickle Cell Anemia, Madasyn from Billings who battles Juvenile Diabetes, and Cecelia from Kansas City who is paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury, millions of Americans stand behind the hope offered through this research.

In fact, Senator John Danforth, a name known by most Missourians, asked this very question once, putting this entire debate into perspective for me. Senator Danforth asked that if a house were on a fire and you had to make the choice whether to save a 3 year old child or cells in a lab dish, which would you save? There is no question in my mind that I would save the life of that child. I have looked into the eyes of those people whose lives will be improved by these cures. I have seen hope in their eyes and I pray we will someday provide them the cures they deserve.

TALENT: There is no question that lab-dish embryos are "a form of early human life." That is a scientific fact on which everyone agrees. The question is what value to attach to such life. And on this question, there is more consensus than many have recognized. Few are comfortable using or destroying embryos for research, especially given that there are alternatives. Biomedical science should be a matter of unity in our national identity: No one should enter the hospital with moral qualms about the research on which their therapies had been developed or resentful that possibilities for the best therapies were not explored. And this balance is within our grasp.

The newest medical research shows that we can strike a balance that protects human life and advances stem cell research to relieve human suffering. The new research offers us just such a path to progress, especially since it may have scientific and medical advantages over research that requires destroying embryos.

AP: Some members of Missouri's business community contend the state stands to take an economic hit if the stem cell referendum fails. What is your opinion? Should the economy be a factor when considering embryonic stem cell research?

McCASKILL: We should be proud that our state is a national leader in the field of medical research. But, this is a position that is threatened by those who would vote against the lifesaving cures offered by stem cell research. This year, Missourians are blessed with the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of our country's global leadership on stem cell research. We cannot allow our state to turn its back on the people who would benefit from these cures.

In addition, we should not deny our medical community the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of these developments. Stem cell research may benefit our economy, but this is only a byproduct of the compassionate and moral decision to support stem cell research. Missourians and the rest of the world stand to benefit far too much from this research to say no to these lifesaving cures.

TALENT: No other state in the country has made cloning embryos a constitutional right. I don't see how Missouri would be at a competitive disadvantage if this cloning technique were not written into our constitution.

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