Man-cow hybrids: has the time finally come?

In a little over a week, Michigan voters will be asked to vote on Proposal 2. The proposal is very simple. It is a constitutional amendment that makes Michigan a less hostile place for human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research. It forbids state or local government from passing laws that are more restrictive than federal law. Here’s how it will appear on the ballot:

The proposed constitutional amendment would:
• Expand use of human embryos for any research permitted under federal law subject to the
following limits: the embryos —
— are created for fertility treatment purposes;
— are not suitable for implantation or are in excess of clinical needs;
— would be discarded unless used for research;
— were donated by the person seeking fertility treatment.
• Provide that stem cells cannot be taken from human embryos more than 14 days after cell division begins.
• Prohibit any person from selling or purchasing human embryos for stem cell research.
• Prohibit state and local laws that prevent, restrict or discourage stem cell research, future therapies and cures.

I have heard some unimaginably creative arguments against this bill, mostly propaganda. One argument I have with the bill (which won’t keep me from voting for it) is that it allows the government to determine what embryos are appropriate, albeit in a very limited way. But no one is talking about that.

Another argument, one that seems to have some traction, is that it will raise spending at a time when Michigan cannot afford it. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone who has read the text of the amendment believes this. (OK, that’s not entirely true…there are tons of ads out there saying just that—and they’re working). This bill says nothing and implies nothing about spending. Here is the real implication of the bill: let’s say I’m a researcher at the U of M, and I have a non-governmental funding source that is supporting my work on human embryonic stem cells. Then, some wacko religious cultists get wind of my work, and lobby for a bill forbidding HESC research either in Ann Arbor or state-wide. Proposal 2 would pass an amendment forbidding such a law. Even more important, let’s say a small pharmaceutical company wants to do significant HESC research, and they look to Michigan, a place with highly educated workers, most of whom don’t have jobs. Then they look to see that there is nothing protecting them from being put out of business by cultists. Why would they locate in Michigan? Hey, we don’t need the jobs anyway. Right? But the real opposition is coming from the expected quarter.

Every Sunday—early in the afternoon—anti-Prop 2 signs pop up like crocuses in March. Religious groups are making the usual arguments equating HESCs with little homunculi who are being murdered in the name of Science. But just in case going to church and hearing your pastor telling you how to vote is too subtle, there is the horrible, horrible beast—the Michigan Man-Cow.


Yes, it’s true—godless, white-coated scientists want to make cattle-human hybrids. And they want to spend your money to produce this abomination. A group called “Michigan Citizens Against Unregulated Science and Experimentation” is running agitprop ads on TV which are both wrong about the science, and frankly harshly anti-intellectual:

And here is the real truth: this campaign is going to work. Prop 2 is going to fail. Social conservatives, hoodwinked by the religious cults, will vote against it, and fiscal conservatives, hoodwinked by the more subtle (but no less mendacious) campaign against “spending” will vote against it. It’s a shame, really. if the past actions of the Religious Right are any guide, as soon as Prop 2 fails, they will propose legislation to limit or ban HESC research in Michigan. And that’ll be it.

Back to making SUV’s. People still like those. Right?