Measure To Fund Stem Cell Research Could Have Nationwide Implications
California could "potentially se[t] the nation on a new course" on stem cell research by "overthrow[ing] three years of cautiously crafted national policy" if state residents approve Proposition 71, a bond measure on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot to fund human stem cell research, the Christian Science Monitor reports (Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, 10/25). Proposition 71 would issue state bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over a decade to promote research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center at a University of California campus, as well as grants and loans for laboratory projects at other colleges. State analysts say the measure could cost a total of $6 billion, including interest (California Healthline, 10/22).
With the passage of the measure, California would "instantly become a leader in the field" of stem cell research and attract scientists and businesses "from across the world," according to the Monitor. Proposition 71 also holds a "promise of new jobs and new treatments," leading Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to endorse the measure last week, the Monitor reports.
Moreover, 46% of likely state voters favor the measure while 39% oppose it, according to a Field Poll released earlier this month. Approval of the measure would "tilt American's struggling stem cell establishment toward the California coast and recast the national conversation about such research," according to the Monitor.
"It creates a reality on the ground and ends the debate in a very real way," Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, said.
Proposition 71 is opposed on various grounds, including "fiscal responsibility and Christian morality, women's health and medical ethics," according to the Monitor. The measure could bring the nation "closer to long-sought cures" but also to the "edge of cloning's slippery slope," the Monitor reports.
In addition, the financial argument against the measure is "perhaps the most obvious" as the state is in "perpetual budget crisis," according to the Monitor.
Proposition 71 "might be commendable, but it is wildly irresponsible," Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) said (Christian Science Monitor, 10/25).
Summaries of recent opinion pieces addressing Proposition 71 appear below.
- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe: Human embryonic stem cell research has become the "smallest issue with the largest impact" in the presidential election, and California voters have the opportunity to "go it alone" in pursuit of the research, columnist Ellen Goodman writes in a Globe opinion piece. However, Goodman writes that provisions of the measure lead "even someone in favor of stem cells ... to ask: Is this any way to run a science program?" (Goodman, Boston Globe, 10/24).
- Daniel Sarewitz, Los Angeles Times: Proposition 71 -- by insulating funds from "meaningful public or legislative accountability" -- puts stem cell research "out of the reach of democracy" and "cut[s] the link between science and democracy," Daniel Sarewitz, professor of science and society at Arizona State University and director of its Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, writes in a Times opinion piece. Instead, California residents could fund stem cell research through legislation that "preserves the balance between scientific autonomy and democratic values" by providing annual appropriations and accountability to elected officials "rather than vested interests," Sarewitz writes (Sarewitz, Los Angeles Times, 10/25).
- William Clark and Clarke Forsythe, San Luis Obispo Tribune: Citing concerns about administration of revenue from the bond measure and the ethics of stem cell research, Clark, former state Supreme Court justice and chief of staff for former President Ronald Regan, and Forsythe, director of the Project in Law and Bioethics at Americans United for Life, question "[h]ow many voters will read the fine print of the 26 pages of Prop. 71 before Election Day." Clark and Forsythe conclude, "The groups most likely to gain from this boondoggle are not patients, but the venture capitalists, universities with large endowments, and special interest groups who are designated by Prop. 71 to staff the bureaucracy" (Clark/Forsythe, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 10/25).
- Dan Gillmor, San Jose Mercury News: Although Proposition 71 is "tempting," the measure is "too massive for comfort" given California's budget situation, and the benefits to taxpayers are "too abstract," columnist Dan Gillmor writes in a Mercury News opinion piece. The ballot measure also comes "too soon" because if Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (Mass.) wins the election, he would repeal President Bush's limitations on human embryonic stem cell research, Gillmor writes (Gillmor, San Jose Mercury News, 10/24).
- Francis Fukuyama, Wall Street Journal: Proponents of Proposition 71 have "shamelessly promoted stem cell research in ways that will inevitably disappoint those who vote for it," Fukuyama, professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Human Biotechnology Governance Forum, writes in a Journal opinion piece. The "issue facing California voters on Nov. 2 will not be science versus religious fanaticism, but whether Big Science and the biotech industry will be able to exploit people's understandable hopes to escape public accountability for the way they spend taxpayer money," Fukuyama concludes (Fukuyama, Wall Street Journal, 10/25).