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?


  1. Anonymous

    I used to think that “South Park” was just a mild, sophomoric social satire on the US in general, then,I took a trip to CO and saw that it is actually a documentary about the interface between various subcultures in that state. Now,I realize that it can predict political trends: “Beware Man-Bear-Pig”!!!!

  2. The Blind Watchmaker

    You are correct. Anti-2 yard signs go up in yards on Sundays after church. Either local churches are violating their charter by violating the separation of church and state rule by giving out these signs, or they are directing people to them.

    One yard has a “2 goes 2 far” sign next to a “Pray to end abortion” sign.

    I’ll bet that these sign-posting rightists have not even read the bill. I know some of them personally. They have no idea what they are even protesting.

    Even our state’s “left” are very religious. Don’t get me wrong, I would fight for anyone’s right to religious freedom. But this is interfering with science and preventing Michigan from becoming a leader in a needed and inevitable field

  3. An older gentleman at my wife’s church tried to get us to take a sign home. I declined, politely at first. He launched into the statements about this being the first step to forced sterilization, etc. We left as he was spewing, but I wonder how many people buy that crap (my guess is that more do than do not).
    I too fear this will fail, as science and educated people simply aren’t in favor in the public at this time.
    Finally, it is interesting to note that the DeVos family is a huge contributor to the “Vote No on 2” campaign. Given their long history of working against civil rights and intellectual dishonesty, that isn’t surprising; my point is that I doubt the pro-prop-2 forces have anyone with pockets as deep.

  4. Oh man, that actor is one of my friends. Here’s hoping he just did it for the money.


  5. Do these people know about the hamster egg assay and transgenic mice? It’s not like human/animal hybrids are anything new or restricted to stem cell research. In other bad news, the NIH’s current funding line is 6%. The NIH is essentially the only thing that keeps the US the leader in health care research. Private investment is about equal in the US and every other developed country. If the NIH goes we might as well leave for places with better laws on stem cell research. Any suggestions about where to aim?

  6. Eilidh Hess

    Have you heard the one about the girl in George Daley’s lab from Kinky University? She thanked him for letting her put his cells into her cow’s eggs but now she’s in a panic that what she said openly at a conference is (er, surprse, surprise) now out in the open.

  7. The Blind Watchmaker

    What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?

    el eph i no (say it phonetically).

    I think that guy in the film was either the Principal in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (likely friends with Ben Stein) or the politician who was against the mutants in X-Men.

  8. Wow.

    So will the banning of Rituxan and Remicade and other chimeric monoclonal antibody-derived medications be next?

  9. I can kind of see a general argument along the lines of “Why are we putting something in the state constitution to prevent localities from making their own laws?” but, as with just about any hot-button proposal, the actual dialog is just ridiculous.

  10. “I think that guy in the film was either the Principal in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off…”

    No, that was Jeffrey Jones. Definitely not him.

    “…or the politician who was against the mutants in X-Men.”

    No, that was Bruce Davison. Definitely not him.

    I know, you were kidding.

  11. As the only apparent retarded “righty” brave enough to post in this unbiased (ROFL) environment,can I just inquire as to what you all have to say about ADULT stem cells? Did I donate all that cord blood for naught? And do you REALLY believe that crap about “I bet they haven’t even read the prop” (my gratitude to the Blind Watchmaker for that bit of sunshine)? I’ve read the prop, and my pastor certainly did not tell me how to vote, thank you very much. I am of sound mind and form my own opinions, just like all of my right friends do as the vast majority of us are educated people. It is a shame that the only thing “you” (generalization) can do to discredit what the right believes is in the form of insults. Insinuating that my brethren are ill-informed and basically dim certainly is not going to sway any opinion in favor of the prop.

  12. Shawna – You have brought nothing to this dialogue that substantiates your claim of being well-informed about anything. If you would really like to further your cause and underscore your wits and well-informedness it would suit your presentation to include real arguments based on real facts.

    All you have done so far is to flaunt your hurt “righty” feelings. Everyone can do that and claim being in the know…

  13. PalMD, you HAVE to look at this. From the AAPS: “Is Obama hypnotizing his supporters?”

    You can’t make this s&$! up.

  14. Shawna: Great, wonderful, glad you’ve read the prop and reflected on it, etc. So how are you voting on prop 2 and why?

  15. Interrobang

    I’m not American, and you have no idea how weird this kind of thing looks to an outsider. Doing research on cells from embryos that would be discarded anyway = the Tuskeegee Syphillis Experiment? Say what? A mildly-worded legislative proposal equals human-animal chimeras (and so what anyway) and reproductive cloning? For that matter, human-animal chimeras and reproductive cloning are things to panic about? Why? I don’t get it. Either you have to overtly or otherwise believe in some religious crap, or you have to be crazy from moral panic. Makes no sense to me.

  16. So will the banning of Rituxan and Remicade and other chimeric monoclonal antibody-derived medications be next?

    Probably. Along with the banning of yeast or bacteria derived human recombinant proteins (insulin, factor VIII, etc).
    But it will probably be the unintended consequence of a poorly written law and be corrected quickly. Or the life expectancy in the area where the law is in force will decrease abruptly. One or the other.

  17. I’m a zoologist who’s reviewed over 5000 stem cell studies. Here’s why I’m against it. (I promise it’ll include something you’ve not considered.)

    Embryos and cures are red-herrings.

    Prop 2 prohibits any gvt. regulation and is already outside internationally accepted guidelines for embryo research (yet, you can’t just study embryos if it passes).

    As bolded, it prohibits laws that simply ‘discourage’ any stem cell research. 2d of the Amendment states that even ‘patient safety’ laws only apply ‘to the extent they do not … discourage any stem cell research’. Nothing else is constitutionally protected in this manner – not even other medical research.

    This is significant when you consider there are few embryos available for research. Sure, there may be 400,000+ cryopreserved … but an average egg-harvest-to-implantation doesn’t have any extras, and IVF works only 1/3 of the time. The embryos are stored to try for a live birth. Those embryos are mostly used and replaced annually. If anyone who quotes the 400,000 study ever read the front page’s conclusion they’d know that under 3% are designated for research, and if they read the whole study they’d know that 35% don’t survive thawing, 25% don’t grow to blastocyst, and abt. 15% will yield stem cells.

    If Prop 2 passes, Michigan could expect only 10 new stem cell lines over the next decade.

    Most would be at U-M, who has 200 stored from the last 2 decades. That’s about 5 stem cell lines. Is that enough to do everything promised? Do you think they’ll share the embryos with other facilities that don’t have an attached IVF clinic, or will all the businesses this is supposed to bring have to open one, too?

    Extra embryos exist because women’s health is put at risk to provide eggs. 1% suffer serious long-term health consequences, including stroke, renal failure, future infertility, and death (yes, women die from it). There is growing evidence of increased risk for heart/kidney diseases, and cancers for themselves and future children.

    The IVF industry is moving away from using drugs to harvest eggs, turning instead to ‘natural’ or ‘soft’ IVF, where the woman’s naturally matured egg is used. The results are healthier women, babies – all at 1/3 the cost of using the drugs. Natural IVF produces no extra embryos – so the supply would eventually end.

    With embryos a scarce commodity, is it right to use them now when conversion rates are only 2% instead of waiting for the development of more efficient methods? (Similarly, if Bush approved funding for all the 2001 lines, they would all be contaminated with mouse from the feeder medium.)

    “more than 14 days after cell division begins” is day 15 (or later).

    This is outside the NIH/NAS guidelines, where research that should not be conducted includes “Research involving in vitro culture of any intact human embryo, regardless of derivation method, for longer than 14 days or until formation of the primitive streak begins, whichever occurs first. ”

    Its outside what the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) finds acceptable: In no case shall such experiments be allowed to progress for more than 14 days of development in vitro, or past the point of primitive streak formation, whichever is first.

    In fact laws are stricter than Prop 2 permits from Canada, throughout the EU, and all the way to (and including) China.

    As Canada so clearly stated: Between the 14th and 17th day of gestation, the basis of the central nervous system of an embryo begins to form. At this time it also becomes apparent if one or more individuals will start to grow from the embryo. Thus, the report says, at 14 days an embryo becomes a ‘person’ for the purposes of law.

    Further stating: it is appropriate to legislate for a 14-day limit if only to ensure that research done in Canada will be as respected as that done in the rest of the world’.

    Michigan researchers can work with any embryonic stem cells they choose.

    A Public Health Code is why they can’t deconstruct the embryos within the states (but can walk them to Ohio and do this).

    We don’t need a Constitutional Amendment, that can only be adjusted with 3/4 legislative approval, to tweak a Public Health Code.

    Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) are ‘the future of stem cell research’ according to: Sir Martin Evans (1st to isolate human embryonic stem cells (hES)); Ian Wilmut (Dolly’s cloner); John Gearhart (1st w/fetal stem cells); and James Thomson (1st to isolate & culture hES AND 1st in US to do iPS). This doesn’t mean hES shouldn’t be studied; iPS wouldn’t be if we didn’t know the ‘off’ genes – but, they aren’t that critical.

    Embryonic stem cells can’t be used directly in therapy because they cause cancer (Scientific American). Tumor formation is a sine qua non characteristic. The preliminary test for them is to inject under skin and look for tumor. No tumor = no hES.

    You get around this by growing to final tissue, which is then rejected by the subject (unless you cloned … which you can’t do in people for biological reasons, like the centrosome being paternally derived, vs. maternally in the animals that it does work – and SCNT requires lots of eggs (putting women at risk, not in the reserach but to provide materials for the research) AND SCNT animals are all ‘flawed’ (genotypically identical but have random trouble reading the genes.)

    As a result, Wilmut abandoned SCNT for iPS – and Advanced Cell in Mass (THE cloning company) is selling its iPS technologies – not its SCNT.

    iPS allows for studying known varients of disease, treatable vs. non, etc. because they come from the patients. Already, nerves from ALS patients have been grown, and Parkinson’s and sickle cell have been successfully treated in animal models – without tumors. They are now made w/o cancer causing gene or retrovirus, too. Drug testing (the main use for embryonic) can be done, too – all on cells known to have the problem and not produced from embryos suspect of being able to have it.

    Prop 2 only allows embryos to be used (up) for/on stem cell research. Not IVF, not embryology.

    There’s a better way to do this than Prop 2 … but if Prop 2 passes we’d be prohibited from doing it!

    Visit: for videos of patients, new research, and recruiting clinical trials – as well as a critique of Prop 2.

  18. Denice Walter

    Re Ames’ suggested website: not only hypnosis but NLP yet!So I guess O knows all the *magic* words and hand gestures … it always makes me laugh when woo-believers use some outlandish,mystical nonsense to explain some simple psychological concept, like verbal communication skills or empathy.

  19. The Blind Watchmaker

    Mary A. Hamilton,

    Thank you for providing a good, sound argument for the opposition instead of the “slippery slope” logical fallacy.

  20. C’mon, Blind, there are far more fallacies there. Actually, the argument doesn’t really meet the readability test, but wouldn’t it be refreshing if she gave the real reason for her opposition?

  21. (CH: Do not flatter yourself so as to think you have hurt my feelings – left, right or otherwise.) I did not post here to talk about my vote, nor my level of education, or even to put in my “2 cents”. If you read the entire statement I made, it was actually a question. Stem cells other than embryonic? Apparently that part was overlooked; or is the silence on the subject a lack of a well-informed response?
    You’ve proven the point I made that responses from the left to right-minded thought are useless. There are no reasonable answers to questions, just insults and cutting the legs out from under people. It’s a shame really, considering that we are all just Americans at the end of the day. Over and out…. and disappointed.

  22. PalMed,

    Yeah, Mary A. Hamilton’s talking points list is just a dodge. It would be nice if she came clean.

  23. Extra embryos exist because women’s health is put at risk to provide eggs.

    Extra embryos exist because oocyte harvesting is the difficult part of IVF and so as many oocytes as possible are taken at this step. Regardless of the disposition of oocytes and/or embryos not needed by the couple. I seriously doubt anyone is going to say, “Gee, let’s undergo another egg harvest so we can have a few extra embryos to donate to science at the end.” If oocyte donation is excessively dangerous, then that is an argument against IVF, not against embryonic stem cell research per se.

    Incidently, it’s poor science and worse ethics for you to be reviewing grants of proposals involving embryonic stem cell research if you are opposed to any and all ESC research. You should recruse yourself from those proposals.

  24. I made a rather bad assumption. I had assumed that those behind the anti-Prop 2 campaign were reasonably well-informed folks who happened to have religious convictions regarding human embryos that I don’t share.

    But, if people like Mary are the folks behind it, “well-informed” doesn’t even come close. The arguments are so poorly reasoned and stated, and fundamentally wrong, that if that’s why they are voting against it, well, I worry about their ability to read a ballot.

  25. minimalist

    Mary has “reviewed over 5,000 stem cell studies” but her citation for (the right-wing anti-ESC canard) “embryonic stem cells cause cancer” is… Scientific American. Not to mention the word soup following it. Such a scrabbling attempt to sound knowledgeable.

    I love it when denialists lie so outrageously about their own qualifications, when their level of knowledge is too ridiculously low to even make a passable attempt at faking it.

    Like when creationists say “I’m a biologist but I rejected evolution because I realized WHY IS THERE STILL MONKEYS?”

    Shawna: What is the distinction between adult and embryonic stem cells?

  26. I’m afraid I have to agree with Minimalist.

    To start with. This article is not a criticism of those who have a moral objection to stem cell research – however arbitrary the belief is that life “begins” at conception since life doesn’t “begin”. It is a criticism of the dishonest tactics and insane conjecture used by opponents of this bill.

    As far as ESC vs iPSC, I agree, iPSC have far more promise. But it’s absolutely absurd to say ESC cause cancer. ESC do not cause “cancer”. Undifferentiated they may form a teratoma – a test actually of their pluripotency in many instances that was used to show that iPSC were equivalent to ESC. iPSC do this too! However, no one is talking about injecting undifferentiated ESC into people or using them as a magic bullet therapy – no one who knows what they’re talking about anyway. It kinds of ruins your credibility.

    What this comes down to is people with a moral objection to stem cell research engaging in immoral and dishonest behavior to oppose it. Shawna can be all indignant because we haven’t discussed the pro’s and con’s in a completely balanced way – well tough cookies. When the other side can come to the table and not act like the sky is falling because a rather benign type of research is merely allowed, maybe we’ll stop making fun of these ridiculous tactics.

    As always, this blog is about tactics more than positions as you’ve seen we happily criticize left wing anti-scientific nonsense when it arises. In this case, the right-wingers are certainly the villains, using absurd arguments, lies and deception to oppose valuable research.

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