California's Bizarre Cloning Initiative
From the God and Science Newsletter:
Biotech and venture capitalists have placed an initiative on the ballot for the November 2, 2004 election that will cost the state of California $6 billion to fund the cloning and destruction of human embryos. The initiative has provisions for closed backroom meetings with venture capitalists to discuss patents and royalties and even allows the institute to award 100% of those monies to the venture capitalists while the state pays 100% of the cost of research. There are also provisions to amend patient informed consent provisions to exempt researchers from federal informed consent regulations. I spoke before a class at Pepperdine University this week, which was nearly all in favor of the initiative before class and completely opposed by the end. For more information about Prop 71, see Arguments Against Proposition 71: The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
There is a lot of talk in the news that suggests that if the federal government had not refused to fund research into human embryo stem cell research, Christopher Reeve would have been walking before he died (at least that is what John Edwards suggested). What are the facts? According to Scientists Against Proposition 71:
Proponents of Proposition 71 claim that the research funded will cure a host of diseases. However, on their website, they fail to distinguish adult stem cell research successes (which are NOT funded by Prop 71) from the failures of embryonic stem cell research (which Prop 71 specifically funds). A recent scientific review admitted that "So far, there are few examples of ES [embryonic stem] cell-based therapy using animal models of diseases that have provided encouraging and promising results.". Several diseases for which stem cell research will never provide treatment have been included on the proponent's list to artificially inflate the numbers of people affected by possibly treatable diseases to garner support from unsuspecting voters. (Footnote omitted).
A truly remarkable chart showing the types of diseases for which stem cell treatment may or may not be affected is included here. What's interesting is that very few of the diseases reference show any promise of being effectively treated by embryonic stem cell research. These are spinal cord injuries and ischemic heart disease, and in both cases adult stem cells have been shown to provide promise, too. Interestingly, Alzheimer's Disease is specifically excluded from the list of medical conditions for which stem cell research may be helpful.
Alzheimer's disease was thrown into the stem cell pot because it adds to the number of people who have affected family members. However, according to Michael Shelanski, Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain (Columbia University Medical Center), "I think the chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer's brains by putting in stem cells is small." Regarding stem cell therapy for Alzheimer's, Ronald D.G. McKay, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says, "To start with, people need a fairy tale." (footnote omitted.)
Given the big hoopla that surrounds the use of stem cells for research into Alzheimer's since the last days of Ronald Reagan, I found these statements to be especially fascinating.
Proposition 71 is apparently flawed not only medically but politically as well. Here is the "Fact Sheet" put out by the Scientists Against Proposition 71 which should be reviewed by anyone considering voting for this measure.
Prop 71 will take 6 billion dollars from the State's general fund money that would have gone to fund vital state services like schools and roads.
Limited research funding
Prop 71 funds research only for human cloning and embryo destruction. If this measure were really about finding cures, it would fund adult and cord stem cell research, which is currently used to treat over 70 different diseases.
Who gets the royalties?
Prop 71 does not require that one single penny of patent and royalty revenues from future research be returned to California taxpayers. The "Institute" established by Proposition 71 may, at its discretion, have taxpayers pay 100% of the costs, and award venture capitalists with 100% of the profits.
Healthcare cost savings?
Supporters of Prop 71 claim that the measure will reduce healthcare costs. However, the costs to obtain the human eggs to clone one cell line are greater than $200,000! Factoring in the other medical costs would result in a cost of $500,000 to treat just one patient! This will promote healthcare for the rich and famous, but not those of us on limited healthcare plans.
Prop 71 provisions allow for closed-door meetings to discuss patents deals.
Exploitation of women
The need to obtain hundreds of thousands of human eggs for research will jeopardize the lives of thousands of women, who will be given powerful and dangerous drugs to obtain their eggs. Dozens have died already and hundreds have been hospitalized through the use of these drugs.
Patient rights modifications
Prop 71 changes standards for patient informed consent and rights (required for all medical research studies and procedures). There is no reason to compromise patient safeguards and rights.
Hiding the purpose of Prop 71
Proposition 71 funds research to clone human embryos. Curiously, if you examine the text, you won't find any mention of human embryos. All the words are coded in scientific or vague terms to keep this information away from the California voter:
Code Word: pluripotent stem cells; Real Meaning: stem cells grown by destroying human embryos
Code Word: products of in vitro fertilization treatments; Real Meaning: human embryos
Code Word: somatic cell nuclear transfer; Real Meaning: cloning human embryos
From the Vote No on Proposition 71 Fact Sheet.
All in all, I think that California voters (of which I was formerly one) should resoundingly reject this proposition. Of course, California voters are expected to overwhelmingly approve it. No wonder the California sun is setting.