Groups File Suits To Stop Stem Cell Institute From Distributing Funds
Taxpayer organizations and groups opposed to stem cell research on Tuesday filed two legal challenges to immediately stop the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine -- created by Proposition 71 -- from distributing funds, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The petitions were filed with the state Supreme Court.
The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a lawyer group that opposes stem cell research and abortion rights, filed one lawsuit alleging that Proposition 71 improperly distributes $3 billion in public funds without legislative oversight. Two taxpayer groups, People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, also are listed as plaintiffs in the suit (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/23).
The second suit, filed on behalf of the not-for-profit group Californians for Public Accountability and Ethical Science, alleges that Proposition 71 violates the single-subject rule for propositions by allowing funding for types of research other than stem cell science. The suit also claims that the initiative breaches conflict-of-interest laws by requiring each member of its oversight committee to be chosen from universities, research foundations, disease advocacy groups and biotech firms that could benefit financially from stem cell research.
Dana Cody, executive director of LLDF and the attorney who filed the group's suit, said, "There is a constitutional provision that says [the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee] has to be under the management and control of the state, and it's not."
Cody's lawsuit for LLDF states, "The great majority, if not all, of the members [of the ICOC] are affiliated with entities that stand to benefit, directly and indirectly, from the grants and loans they award."
Ted Costa, CEO of People's Advocate, said, "There is nothing wrong with doing the research. But we should have oversight, and the Legislature should have some say over it."
David Llewellyn, an attorney for CPAES, said, "The members of [ICOC] are all infected with conflicts of interest and have to be enjoined from taking any action." Llewellyn added that rules requiring board members to recuse themselves from voting on issues in which they have an interest are not sufficient to ensure the protection of the public's interest.
Llewellyn and Cody said that they have consulted with each other and that they believe their lawsuits complement one another.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the state Supreme Court rarely hears lawsuits without prior hearings in other courts. However, lawyers for the plaintiffs said they are seeking a Supreme Court hearing because an expedited resolution is needed to block the stem cell initiative from spending funds (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 2/23).
The groups that filed both lawsuits are seeking to freeze the state's ability to sell bonds to fund the grants for the stem cell institute until the court reaches a decision.
Vincent Fortanasce, who was president of the No on 71 campaign, serves on the board of CPAES.
ICOC spokesperson Julie Buckner said, "Nearly 60% of the electorate voted in favor of Proposition 71, with the clear mission to find treatments and cures for disease. The same voters felt comfortable that there was ample oversight and public accountability built into the initiative. Those voters now have every right to expect the work of this institute to proceed" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/23).
Buckner also said the lawsuits are "strikingly similar" to a failed lawsuit filed by the tobacco industry in protest of Proposition 10, a 50-cent per pack cigarette tax approved in 1998 (Sacramento Bee, 2/23).
The New York Times on Wednesday profiled Hans Kierstead, a researcher at the University of California-Irvine who plans to begin testing a stem cell therapy on humans next year. His proposed trial on humans "would almost certainly be the first human trial of any therapy derived from such cells," the Times reports. However, some researchers argue further testing should be performed on other animals before humans (Pollack, New York Times, 2/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.