California's Proposition 71 pseudo 'stem cell civil wars'

Dianne N. Irving
March 20, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

Isn't it absolutely FASCINATING to observe such lengthy discussions about "stem cell civil wars" that essentially involve false dichotomies? Reminds me of the similar false distinction between "therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning that the very same people (on both sides of the aisle) have made - a distinction without a difference! If one can frame the public debates so that people are led to believe that only certain things are at issue, then the real facts at issue are thereby publicly avoided.

Such is the case over the pseudo stem cell civil wars taking place in California land. Why is it that no one is addressing the fact that blatantly false science was used to pass Proposition 71 -- the very same false science of "genetic identity" used by Hwang to claim he had made "patient-specific" stem cells, and that "therapeutic cloning" isn't really cloning? Indeed, a California judge even found in favor of the accurate science used by some opponents of Prop. 71. [See Irving: Comments: "California court rejects false science in Proposition 71" (Nov. 1, 2004), at:; also, CE Editors, "Cash-Strapped California Votes to Give $6 Billion for Cloning and Embryo Research" (Nov. 4, 2004), at:].

The real concerns about Prop. 71 are not just about conflict of interests and egg donation - as argued by many supposedly "con" this research. The issue of the scientific fraud used to pass Prop. 71 should be at the top of their list. But there is total silence from these "prolife' opponents. Why is that? Too close to home? And where are the discussions about violations of the Declaration of Helsinki inherent in Prop. 71? Too close to home?

What's that old saying, "Physician - heal thyself"?

California Politics Today
March 18, 2006
By Marc Strassman

Faced with unexpected legal insurgency, and several other unresolved issues, California's Proposition 71 may devolve into "stem cell civil war"

"Can't we all just get along?"

According to a February 15, 2006, post on the California Stem Cell Report, entitled "Clashing Interests on the Stem Cell Oversight Committee":

"...the real stakes - broadly speaking - pit the priorities of the patient advocates against the academic contingent on the board. The patient advocates - 10 out of 29 persons on the committee -- represent groups of persons who have diseases that could benefit from stem cell therapies. Generally, the advocates emphasize great speed in bringing cures to the marketplace. The academicians on the board stress thorough science and warn that it is a slow process."

This article includes a discussion of parliamentary tactics employed by member of the "patient advocates contingent" faction to stymie the adoption of a planning proposal generally favored by the "academician contingent" on the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC), created and empowered by the passage in November, 2004, of Proposition 71, the Stem Cell Initiative.

ICOC member Jonathan Shestack, identified in this piece as the "founder and president of Cure Autism Now," is quoted as saying:

"I also think there is a danger when all the positions -- academic, advocacy, industry -- are not talking to each other, talking only to a central person who then filters their needs."

No doubt frustrated by the inability of the ICOC to float any part of the $3 billion in general obligation bonds authorized under Proposition 71 (to be repaid with around $6 billion in General Fund/taxpayer money over the 30-year term of these bonds), the ICOC may now be experiencing, as hinted at by the disagreements referenced above, internal conflicts of interest within the 29-member board that Proposition 71 established to oversee the operations of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), in addition to the alleged conflicts-of-interest inherent in constituting the board with representatives of academic institutions (including Stanford and the University of California), patient advocacy groups, and bio-tech companies, all of whom have direct (and now, apparently, possibly conflicting) interests in seeing that the decisions of the board benefit their respective constituencies.

Troubles facing the ICOC

These possible internal contradictions within the ICOC are only one of many problems facing the group.

The lawsuit brought by taxpayer groups People's Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation to block the ICOC from spending any part of the $3 billion in funds authorized under Proposition 71 on the grounds that the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee is not "under the exclusive management and control of the State of California," is now being considered by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw, who is expected to issue a ruling within the next few weeks.

Attorney for these groups Dana Cody told California Politics Today yesterday that she expects the ruling by Judge Sabraw to go against her clients, but she also indicated that, if that happens, the next step in this litigation will be to take that decision to the California Court of Appeals for further consideration.

Bond anticipation notes

Since no one is willing to buy any part of the $3 billion in stem cell bonds authorized under Proposition 71 while litigation that might permanently block their use is still pending, ICOC chair (and Proposition 71 author) Robert Klein has been looking for philanthropic organizations and individuals willing to buy "bond anticipation notes" that would either be redeemed with funds raised by the eventual sale of the "bonds-in-chief" (if the litigation is finally resolved in favor of the ICOC) or be transformed into gifts to the ICOC (if the litigation is finally resolved in favor of the plaintiffs seeking to block the expenditure of the $3 billion in bond-based funding).

Again according to information published on the California Stem Cell Report web site on March 15, 2006, entitled " $50 Million for CIRM: All But In The Bag:

"California stem cell chairman Robert Klein says he now has commitments for the $50 million he has been trying to raise to fund grants approved six months ago by the stem cell agency.

"Klein made the disclosure to a stem cell conference in San Francisco earlier this week. The next steps will come from the state treasurer's office to formally approve the bond anticipation notes and do the paperwork. An official in the treasurer's office said that process normally takes only a few weeks."

California Politics Today yesterday contacted the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission (CDIAC), an agency within the California State Treasurer's Office headed by California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides and asked if that office had yet issued the authorization required for the sale of the $50 million in bond anticipation notes which Mr. Klein was reported to have arranged.

"We're kind of on a clamp-down a bout talking to the press" about that question, according to a staffer at the CDIAC, who suggested a call to the public information office of the Treasurer's Office.

Repeated questions to Mike Roth, a spokesperson for Treasurer Phil Angelides, about whether the necessary authorization had yet been issued by that office in the matter of the much-anticipated bond anticipation notes reportedly desired in the amount of $50 million dollars by unnamed potential buyers were repeatedly answered with a firm "when the Treasurer's Office has news on that issue, we'll let you know."

Performance audit of ICOC ordered through the efforts of California State Senator Deborah Ortiz and others

The status of authorization for the sale of bond anticipation notes is not the only ICOC-related issue now pending in Sacramento. According to a March 8, 2006, article in the San Jose Mercury by Steve Johnson entitled "Stem-cell institute to get auditLawmakers want more scrutiny":

"California lawmakers Wednesday agreed to conduct an audit of how well the state's stem-cell institute is performing, in addition to the annual financial audit the program is required to do.

"'I hope this audit would help insure this program is on sound footing,'' said [candidate for California Secretary of State] Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, one of 11 legislators calling for the performance review.

"Although California voters approved $3 billion for the stem-cell institute, its financing has been severely constrained because of two pending lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. But Ortiz said the agency has nevertheless spent nearly $8 million so far and 'it has issued contracts for some questionable things."

"As examples of that, Ortiz said the institute has spent $27,000 a month for public relations, $10,000 a month for lobbying and a total of $300,000 for private legal counsel, expenditures questioned previously by other critics."

Long delay in implementing Proposition 71 has allowed closer scrutiny of some of the claims used to pass it

In a September 14, 2004, "Economic Impact Analysis -- Proposition 71: California Research and Cures Initiative" document prepared by Professor Laurence Baker, Associate Professor, Health Research and Policy, Stanford University, and Bruce Deal, Managing Principal, Analysis Group, Inc., in nearby Menlo Park, California, paid for by the Proposition 71 campaign and relied on as the basis for the arguments made by that campaign during its efforts to convince California voters to support the initiative measure, the team made certain promises about the benefits to be derived by the passage of Proposition 71, chief among which was this:

"State royalty revenues of from $537 million to $1.1 billion, [bolding in original] resulting from the provisions in Proposition 71 that give the state an opportunity to share in royalties resulting from research funded by the Initiative."

In a March 16, 2006, post on the California Stem Cell Report web site entitled "California Should Expect Modest Royalties From Stem Cell Firms," CSCR publisher David Jensen writes:

"The California stem cell agency is going to give folks a glimpse later this month at its initial thinking concerning the division of spoils from inventions that come about from its grants to commercial firms.

"But we already have a suggestion from one interested party that the state's share be modest. Fred Middleton, managing director of a biomedical venture capital firm in San Mateo, Ca., Sanderling Ventures, suggested minimal royalties - something in the 3 percent to 8 percent range. Ten percent would be too high, he said.

"He also said the state should not expect a short-term payback on its investment."

This is only the latest in a long series of reports indicating that the direct financial benefit to California taxpayers ("State royalty revenues of from $537 million to $1.1 billion") promised by Proposition 71 advocates will not be forthcoming. See also, in this regard "A second look at a Stanford professor's study touting both 'tax-free, general obligation state bonds' and 'state royalty revenues of from $537 million to $1.1 billion' as reasons to vote for Proposition 71" (California Politics Today, September 5, 2005) and "California taxpayers unlikely to see any cash return on their $6 billion investment in stem cell research under Proposition 71" (California Politics Today, September 19, 2005).

Other claims/promises made to California voters in the pre-election run-up to the vote on Proposition 71 by backers of that measure were "direct health care cost savings to the State government of at least $3.4 billion to $6.9 billion" and "additional billions in health care costs savings for California businesses, citizens and other payers of health care costs." [bolding in original]

Since then, further consideration of the likely high-costs of any cures or treatments derived from the human embryonic stem cell research proposed to be financed with Proposition 71 bond money has greatly lowered expectations about the "health care cost savings" to be gained by either the State of California or its "businesses, citizens, and other payers of health care costs."

Egg farming issue not resolved yet

No resolution is in sight yet of the many thorny issues surrounding the "recruitment" of female human egg donors for the "harvesting" of their oocytes, or egg cells, an essential ingredient in the process of "somatic cell nuclear transfer" ("cloning") that lies at the core of the research legalized and funded by Proposition 71. Especially difficult, in this regard, is dealing with demands from any quarters that egg-donating women be required to make their contributions altruistically, and receive no compensation beyond the expenses they incur during the donation process while at the same time that women considered "genetically-advantaged" are routinely being offered (and presumably accepting) $5,000, $10,000, or more per donation for their eggs.

Apart from suggesting that an overwhelming desire to contribute to scientific progress and (potentially) contribute in some way to the alleviation of human suffering for solely altruistic reasons, no one has yet satisfactorily explained why, for example, a female Stanford undergraduate would undergo the risky egg-donation procedures required for "egg harvesting" at the Stanford Stem Cell Institute and receive no compensation when she could cross El Camino Real into Palo Alto and pick-up $10,000 for doing the same thing at a private fertility clinic on behalf of a well-to-do but otherwise childless couple (while also alleviating their specific human suffering).

See, in this regard, the testimony of Joe Carter, a research analyst at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. before the Human Services Committee of the Illinois General Assembly, about HB4156, a now-tabled bill providing that units of Illinois state government "may not use or allow the use of public funds, property, or credit for certain human cloning activities."

In his testimony Mr. Carter said:

"To understand the clinical implications, let's limit our focus to a disease like diabetes, which affects approximately 16 million Americans. At the rate of 50 eggs per viable clone, we would need 800 million human eggs - 80 million donations -- just to treat this one disease throughout the population. Because there are only 60 million women of reproductive age in America, we would need to harvest eggs from every woman of reproductive age in the country and ask 20 million of them to donate a second time just to get the eggs needed for treating diabetes. What this means is that every single woman who can produce healthy eggs would need to undergo an uncomfortable, painful, and potentially dangerous procedure in order to provide cures for this one disease.

"... This type of risk will naturally keep the cost of donor eggs relatively high. If we use the going rate of $5,000-15,000 per donation, we can estimate that the cost will be between $400 billion to 1.2 trillion dollars just to buy the eggs needed to provide treatment for those who suffer from diabetes. Add to this the cost of hospitalization, physician care, creating the clone, and other medical expenses and it becomes apparent that therapeutic cloning would be the most expensive medical treatment in the history of the world."

Additional material about the issue of "human egg farming" can be found in these articles:

"Fears of "female human egg farming" grow, while local, national, and global battles over human cloning rage" (California Politics Today, April 17, 2005)

"Proposition 71 stem cell quagmire deepens as 'egg recruitment' and 'cellular vampirism' issues receive heightened scrutiny" (California Politics Today, November 17, 2005)

Stem Cell Wars, Volume 2, Chapter 2: Human Egg Farming--"Can either the free market or altruistic volunteers provide the human eggs needed for hESC research under Proposition 71, or will some form of coercion be necessary?" (California Politics Today, November 20, 2005)

An ancient admonition confronts the "next big thing"

Given all that's transpired, and been revealed, since California voters bought the deal proposed to them by Robert Klein and his team of lawyers, economists, and bio-medical researchers (largely ones associated with Stanford University), on November 2, 2004, one can only wonder why the ultra-modern bio-medical technology, cutting-edge legal construction, and beyond state-of-the-art organizational structures instantiated in that initiative measure were not more thoroughly subjected to the more ancient, but still relevant, legal and commercial principle of caveat emptor, "let the buyer beware."

For more information about the "Stem Cell Wars"

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