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Archbishop Burke blasts stem cell proposal

Vision America leads information rally for Missouri pastors

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke contended Monday that a ballot proposal to protect some forms of embryonic stem-cell research was really seeking "the legalized destruction of human life."

And he accused supporters of the proposal, on the Nov. 7 ballot as Amendment 2, of spreading "a tremendous amount of misinformation and disinformation" to convince Missouri voters otherwise.

Burke, head of the St. Louis Roman Catholic archdiocese, joined other regional and national religious conservatives - from Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly to commentator Alan Keyes - who addressed hundreds who packed the sanctuary at the Life Christian Church, 13001 Gravois Road in south St. Louis County.

The two-hour rally was the third of at least five to be held around the state to galvanize religious opposition to Amendment 2, which would protect all forms of embryonic stem-cell research allowed under federal law.

Hotel executive Charles Drury introduced Burke. "This may be the most critical vote of our lifetime . . . so that millions of babies may live that otherwise might not," Drury said.

The speakers' messages against Amendment 2 minced no words, often igniting standing ovations.

"Have you ever noticed that when the devil tries to sell you an evil idea, he usually wraps it in a lie?" asked Rich Bott, executive vice president for the Missouri-based Bott Radio Network.

The Rev. Rick Scarborough - head of Texas-based Vision America, the religious group organizing the series of rallies - accused the amendment's chief supporters of being enticed by financial gain to seek constitutional protection "to clone and kill."

In response, Donn Rubin - chairman of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the group promoting the ballot proposal - condemned the talk, and expressed surprise that Burke would join in.

In a telephone interview, Rubin contended that it was the opponents who were spreading untruths. Otherwise, he said, the Cures Coalition wouldn't have support from more than 100 groups, including research centers, health care groups and patient groups.

Critics, said Rubin, are "inventing wild claims to distract the public from what we're really voting on - the right of Missourians to obtain the same medical treatments available in other states."

At the rally, opponents emphasized that much of the debate centers on a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or therapeutic cloning.

Under that procedure, the nucleus of an unfertilized human egg is replaced with the nucleus of another human cell. Opponents say it is a form of human cloning and cite the use of the procedure to clone Dolly the sheep. The Lifesaving Cures Coalition says the procedure is not cloning and cites the proposed amendment's specific ban against implanting such an egg in a womb.

Also at issue is the proposed amendment's provision that would allow the use of leftover human embryos from in vitro fertilization procedures, if the embryos' donors give permission.

The amendment supporters say such embryos would otherwise be thrown away. Opponents say such embryos should be implanted in wombs and become babies.

At the news conference, Keyes asked why there was "such a rush" to get Missourians to approve such an amendment, in the face of numerous medical advances that may not make it necessary to destroy embryos.

Keyes also offered to debate former Sen. John C. Danforth, an Episcopal priest and leader in the pro-Amendment 2 effort.

Scarborough said the number of Missouri rallies would depend on how much money can be raised to pay for them. So far, each rally has cost close to $20,000. That includes Keyes' speaking fee of $2,500.

The Lifesaving Cures' leaders point to the payments as evidence that Keyes and Scarborough may have financial motives. Scarborough said he was offended by such talk, and added that Keyes' payment was a fraction of his usual speaking fee.