Missouri Compromised

Stem cell opponents’ attempts to block research is making Missouri known as anti-science—a classic case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Missouri has been in a state of limbo on stem cell research since the 2006 midterm election, and things just seem to keep getting worse. The November ballot measure included no funding, but we reported on it optimistically because it modified Missouri’s constitution to protect all forms of stem cell research allowed by federal law. Yet opponents of embryonic stem cell research have gradually chiseled away at this development, which is groundbreaking for a socially conservative state, and are taking dangerous steps down a slippery slope that hurts life science research overall.

The Stowers Institute of Medical Research in Kansas City announced that it was scrapping plans for a $300 million expansion to its stem cell research in late July amid embryonic stem cell research progress by various Missouri research institutions. Even though the Institute had purchased a 100-acre tract of land, a string of legislative setbacks prompted it to put construction of the research facility on hold.

These legislative setbacks—which the institute considered evidence of a “persistent negative climate”—included a failed ballot item aimed at overturning the constitutional amendment passed in November, the withdrawal of life science-related projects from a $350 million plan for capital improvement projects at public colleges, and the governor’s appointment of stem cell opponent Rep. Bob Onder to the Life Sciences Research Board.

To Onder’s credit, he does believe the all-or-nothing approach taken up by both sides in the debate is unreasonable. On the one hand, he claims that he doesn’t see where the Stowers Institute “gets off saying that the political climate has to be perfect before they go forward with their mission.” He has also called out state lawmakers for barring funding for any human medical research by the Life Science Board in order to appease opponents of embryonic stem cell. Onder stated in The Colombia Tribune that he found this to be “a very unfortunate thing.”

Onder couldn’t be more correct. This Stower Institute’s change of plans is just another step in a series of unfortunate events that began with the University of Missouri being denied $85 million dollars of state money for a new research facility last February. The facility was denied funding not because it was actually going to practice embryonic stem cell research, but because lawmakers feared it could practice it sometime in the future.

We detailed the University of Missouri’s plight back then, and it seems that our predictions at the time have come true. Conservative lawmakers have wrought indiscriminate damage on the biomedical sciences and in particular on the University of Missouri—an institution that Missouri taxpayers pay for and send their children to be educated. This damage is all in order to strike a symbolic blow against stem cell research, and they have scared off scientists in the process.

This cynical, excessive, and grandstanding political move by opponents of embryonic stem cell research is a blow to the soft, vulnerable, and undeserving target of the university. And really, it just advertises Missouri as an anti-science state. It’s a blatant case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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