Kansas may push for stem cell amendment

? Kansas officials say they may push for a stem cell research amendment, similar to one that narrowly passed in Missouri.

“I think we’ll analyze that vote carefully, what people think they voted for, what they didn’t think they voted for,” Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said.

Of the amendment, Sebelius said, “I think it’s a step forward to at least ensure in Missouri that research can continue, and I think there is a lot of interest in looking at that kind of language here in Kansas.”

Both Missouri and Kansas have been trying to lure scientists and bioscience industries.

Such an amendment in Kansas would draw opposition from Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization.

“Prolife Kansans do not support unlimited and immoral scientific experimentation,” said Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for KFL.

In addition, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has been a vocal opponent of embryonic stem cell research.

Close election

The Missouri amendment guaranteed that any federally allowed stem cell research can occur in that state, including research using human embryos. It passed Tuesday, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Supporters, led by medical research institutions, said the amendment would ensure the continuation of life-saving research and boost the economy. The proposal was needed, they said, to protect stem cell research from legislative steps to restrict it.

Opponents, led by religious and anti-abortion groups, said the embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong because it destroys human life.

The Missouri election results were mixed. While bagging a victory, supporters spent $30 million to get it, against approximately $3 million spent by opponents. The amendment lost in 97 out of 114 counties, but won in the large urban areas.

Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, a major proponent of bioscience research, said the amount of money needed to barely win “should give the governor and everyone else pause before Kansas weighed in on that.”

Kansas poll

Last year, a poll commissioned by the Kansas Coalition for Lifesaving Cures showed that large majorities of Kansans support embryonic stem cell research, and opposed legislative efforts to ban it.

By 79 percent to 19 percent, Kansas voters agreed that the state policy should be that “any stem cell research, therapies or cures that are permitted by federal law should be allowed in Kansas – provided that such activities are conducted ethically and safely and do not involve human cloning to create babies.”

Lori Huftles, executive director of the coalition, said she was delighted to hear Sebelius’ support of stem cell research, but added the coalition was not pushing for a constitutional amendment on the matter in Kansas.

She said the coalition is more focused on educating the public and Legislature about stem cell research.

A bill to ban human cloning in Kansas was introduced in 2005 but wasn’t approved.

Opponents of the measure, including Kansas University and the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, Mo., said the legislation went further than a cloning ban and could halt potentially life-saving research.

The Missouri amendment was placed on the ballot through petitions signed by voters. In Kansas, a proposed constitutional amendment can be placed on the ballot only after being approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate.

Huftles said efforts in Kansas to restrict stem cell research may have been dealt a blow because of the recent defeat of state Rep. Mary Pilcher Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, who was a vocal opponent of embryonic stem cell research.

Earlier this year, legislative leaders ordered a study on human cloning to be done by the new Kansas Health Policy Authority by the end of the year. Anti-abortion advocates said the study should have been conducted by a legislative committee, whose members are accountable to voters.