Ballot Measure To Fund Stem Cell Research Raises Concerns About Funding, Benefits
Opponents and supporters of Proposition 71, a bond measure that was approved by voters Nov. 2 to fund stem cell research, have voiced concern that the measure "contains inadequate safeguards" to ensure that funding is granted ethically and that the public will benefit from the research, the New York Times reports (Broder, New York Times, 11/27).
Proposition 71 will issue state bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over 10 years to promote stem cell research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center, as well as grants and loans for lab projects. State analysts say the measure will cost a total of $6 billion, including interest (California Healthline, 11/22).
Critics also said they are concerned that the initiative could result in a "bonanza for private profiteers," and "the promise of stem cell studies has been oversold to the public," according to the New York Times.
"Three billion dollars is a lot of money, and there's a potential for a lot of people to get very, very wealthy without accomplishing any public good," Wayne Johnson, who ran an unsuccessful campaign to defeat the ballot measure, said.
Miriam Piven Cotler, a medical ethicist at California State University-Northridge, said, "We have committed an elaborate public mechanism to this research. Who safeguards it? What interests will be represented, how public will their deliberations be and how much power will they have?"
Robert Klein, who organized the campaign in favor of the measure, said the initiative contains provisions to prevent a conflict of interest. No member of the oversight panel created by Proposition 71 -- which will include representatives from most of California's major medical schools, members of not-for-profit research institutes, commercial biotechnology company executives and advocates for research in a variety of diseases -- will be allowed to vote on a potential grant to his or her institution, and all grant recipients must follow NIH rules for publishing and sharing data.
Klein added that a group of outside experts with no financial stake in the research will be formed to ensure the equitable and ethical administering of grants.
Klein said that conflicts might arise over patent rights for research techniques and potential treatments, but he expressed "hop[e]" that "they would be resolved quickly and in the public's favor," according to the New York Times (New York Times, 11/27).
Proposition 71 is a "sound investment" that "may already be paying off," as "top researchers and biotech firms are at least talking about moving to California," a Los Angeles Times editorial states.
But the "biotech contingent needs some counterweight," and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) faces the "challenge" of "opening up" the process of nominating individuals to the oversight panel, which has so far been "entirely behind the scenes," the editorial adds.
The public "deserves to know the history of likely [panel] nominees and their views on how to implement this unprecedented scientific experiment," and the current approach is the "wrong [way] to iron out an initiative governed ... independently and for the citizens," the editorial concludes (Los Angeles Times, 11/27).