- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

California voters will decide in November whether to give $3 billion in state funds to support embryonic stem-cell research in a ballot initiative designed to sidestep President Bush’s stem-cell policy.

The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative was certified Wednesday by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

If it passes, the initiative will create a state institute that could give up to $295 million a year for 10 years to California research groups and universities to conduct stem-cell research, involving both adult and embryonic stem cells. The effort would be funded by state bonds, and although the bonds would be paid for using tax revenue, no payments would be due for the first five years.

“Unfortunately, the federal government is not providing adequate funding necessary for the urgent research and facilities needed to develop stem-cell therapies to treat and cure disease and serious injuries,” reads one section of the initiative, which pledges to “close this funding gap.”

The human embryonic stem cells — which some scientists say hold the most promise for curing a host of ailments because of their ability to develop into different types of body cells — would either be taken from embryos left from in vitro fertilization treatments or created through the cloning process.

Supporters say the new ballot initiative is needed because Mr. Bush’s 2001 stem-cell policy restricted embryonic stem-cell research by only allowing federal funding for a small number of existing embryonic stem-cell lines.

“Stem-cell research offers enormous potential in terms of curing life-threatening diseases,” said Paul Hefner, spokesman for California State Controller Steve Westly, a Democrat who has endorsed the initiative. “In addition, making California a global leader in this area can improve our economy by bolstering the biotechnology industry while also making significant savings in health costs in the future.”

Opponents of the initiative have formed a coalition — called Doctors, Patients and Taxpayers for Fiscal Responsibility — which includes some doctors, anti-assisted-suicide expert Wesley Smith, the California Catholic Conference, the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and the California Right to Life Committee.

Carol Hogan, communications director for the California Catholic Conference, said although the group is clearly concerned with the destruction of human life involved in embryonic stem-cell research, even some who hold different views on abortion have fiscal concerns about the ballot initiative, which will cost taxpayers money at a time when California is in deep debt.

“This is not a pro-life issue per say. For us Catholics, it is … but this initiative has alarmed people all along the spectrum,” she said.

Jennifer Lahl, national director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, said the initiative’s backers make it seem as if cures are a guarantee, when there is no proof it will produce any cures. She said the private sector is wary about funding such research, so scientists are turning to the taxpayers.

She said if California is going to spend money, it should invest in research that already has led to treatments.

“Why don’t we put any precious dollars we do have into research that we know is working?” she said.

Proponents of the measure — who collected 1 million signatures to get it on November’s ballot — include moviemaker Jerry Zucker and Nobel-prize winning scientists Paul Berg, J. Michael Bishop and David Baltimore, as well as patient-advocacy groups and parents of sick children.

Fiona Hutton, spokesperson for Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures — the umbrella group behind the initiative — said it is designed to pay for itself by generating new jobs and allowing California to share a portion of the royalties generated from potential new patents.

“It’s a small investment for the potential payoff,” she said.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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