A state lawmaker said Tuesday he wants a serious discussion on his bill that would make it illegal in the state to manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption that contains aborted human fetuses.
Sen. Ralph Shorty said he is not aware of any company in Oklahoma or anywhere else that is using practices featured in a 1973 science-fiction movie. In “Soylent Green,” small green wafers were said to contain high-energy plankton but were actually made from human corpses.
“People are thinking that this has to do with fetuses being chopped up and put in our burritos,” said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, who was elected in 2010. “That's not the case. It's beyond that.
“There are companies that are using embryonic stem cells to research and basically cause a chemical reaction to determine whether or not something tastes good or not,” he said. “As a pro-life advocate, it kind of disturbed me that we would use aborted embryos or aborted human fetuses to extract stem cells and use them for research to basically make things taste better.”
Shortey said he filed the bill after reading last fall that an anti-abortion group, Children of God for Life, had called on the public in March 2010 to boycott products of major food companies that partnered with a biotech company that produces artificial flavor enhancers, unless the company stopped using aborted fetal cells to test their products. The company has denied the allegation. A representative of the San Diego-based company did not return a telephone call or email request for comment Tuesday.
“The technology and the research capabilities are available,” he said. “They're used in some things. Whether or not they use human cells or animal cells, it's hard to tell because companies are under no obligation to give that information unless their shareholders request it.
“I'm not pointing fingers at any particular company,” Shortey said. “What I'm saying is in Oklahoma if you're a company just don't do this. There are plenty of other alternatives for developing food; you don't need to use aborted human fetuses or stem cells to do that.”
Shortey, who opposes the use of embryonic stem cells for research, said he filed the measure, Senate Bill 1418, as a public awareness effort. It is not an attempt to ban stem cell research in the state.
“The people that seem to be negative about this bill are the ones that support embryonic stem cells because they think I'm trying to do something with that here,” he said. “If I wanted to outlaw embryonic stem cell research, I would just come out and do it.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said his group has concerns about the legislation.
“From what I can tell, Sen. Shortey has authored this legislation based upon some rumors that he's heard about this but with no evidence that it's actually occurring,” said Kiesel, a former state legislator. “Rumor doesn't make for the best public policy.”
Shortey said more work will be done on the bill, which is only one page and does not include any criminal penalties, he said.
“It's akin to back in the 1960s and '70s ... you had these companies that were using animals in pretty extreme ways doing testing on them and things like that,” he said. “Nobody believed it, they weren't admitting to it. ... It's kind of like this case. If you've got a company that is using these types of unethical research techniques, they're not going to admit to it because it's a public-relations nightmare.
“What we're saying is that if a company chooses to do this unethically, then not only will be they doing it unethically but they'll also be breaking the law at the same time,” Shortey said. “I want to start a discussion with my colleagues and I want it to be a serious discussion.”
He said he expects his measure will get a committee hearing.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said it will up to the appropriate committee chairman to determine whether the measure will get a hearing. Bills still are being assigned.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day the Legislature as a body does the right thing,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “That's part of the process that we come up and look at both sides of the issue. You can't control what a guy does when he files legislation. It's all a process and at the end of the day you want to look at the final bills that are actually passed and signed by the governor.”
Shortey said he was surprised SB 1418 has drawn so much attention. He's also filed legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 83, which seeks sending to a vote of the people a proposal to abolish the state Court of Criminal Appeals.
Last year he filed a measure which, in response to doubts about President Barack Obama's citizenship, would have required presidential candidates to provide birth certificates in order to be on the state's presidential preference primary ballot. He also filed bills that would have denied Oklahoma citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants and would have allowed police not only to question people about their immigration status but also to confiscate property, including homes and vehicles, belonging to those in the country illegally. All three failed to advance.
Shortey said his measure could evolve into one that would outlaw embryonic stem cell research in the state. A similar measure failed to advance last year in the Legislature.
“I'm a firm believer of pro-life principles and I think life begins at conception,” he said. “It's abhorrent that we don't protect that life ... and it's disgraceful that we first allow the life to be taken and then when the life is taken we just disregard the body in whatever form it's in and allow it to be used to profit a company.”
Kiesel said that debate could harm the medical research industry in the state.
“Anytime that we see politicians in Oklahoma making an effort to criminalize scientific research, it does a disturbance to the entire scientific community and it does a disturbance to the health care options that might be available to Oklahomans,” he said. “We know for a fact that there is a world of potential medical breakthrough that can come through the use of stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research. What kind of message does that send to the scientific community that we're in Oklahoma seeing again an effort to criminalize medical research? We're doing this at a time when we're trying to attract top-tiered doctors, physicians and medical researchers to our state.”