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High court affirms constitutionality
of California stem cell research program

Photo courtesy Harvard University Gazette

By Julia Cheever

May 17, 2007

The California Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the constitutionality of the state's $3 billion voter-approved stem cell research program.

The court, in an order issued at its San Francisco headquarters, refused to take up several groups' appeals of a lower court ruling that upheld the program.

The action means the decision by the Court of Appeal in February is the final state court ruling in the case and that the $3 billion in bonds approved by voters for a 10-year period can now be issued.

The program, known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, was approved by voters in Proposition 71 in 2004. The institute is based in San Francisco and is governed by a 29-member Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee.

Committee chairman Robert Klein said the program "now has lift-off."

Klein said, "The future for the next decade is assured for California and for research on the stem cell frontier."

Klein said the institute will issue its first $250 million bond in July.

Part of the first bond will repay interim funding provided by loans while the program was being challenged in court, Klein said. That funding included a $150 million state loan authorized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and $45 million in loans from private philanthropists.

The interim funding was used to fund $158 million in grants to university and research institutions thus far. Klein said those grants make the institute the largest sponsor of stem cell research in the world.

Schwarzenegger said yesterday, "Today's action by the California Supreme Court is a victory for our state because potentially life-saving science can continue without a shadow of legal doubt.

"This decision reaffirms voters' will to keep California on the forefront of embryonic stem cell research. California's leadership gives the best promise of finding a cure for deadly and debilitating diseases," the governor said.

The program was challenged in two separate lawsuits by the California Family Bioethics Council, and by two taxpayer groups, People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation.

Dana Cody, a lawyer for the tax groups, said no further appeals are possible.

Cody said, "This is it. The state Supreme Court was the last court we could go to."

Cody said embryonic cell research is "experimental research that will probably never produce anything" and should not be funded by taxpayers.

The groups claimed the program had inherent conflicts of interest and violated the California constitution because there was no direct state control over expenditures of state funds.

They lost their case in Alameda County Superior Court last year and again in the Court of Appeal in San Francisco in February. The appeals court said the program had adequate public and financial accountability and "suffers from no constitutional or other infirmity."

Supporters say embryonic cell research could be used to develop new regenerative treatments for diseases and injuries such as childhood diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and spinal cord damage.

The state program was placed on the ballot in response to the Bush Administration's decision to restrict federally funded stem cell research and limit its funding to $25 million per year. President Bush and some other social conservatives oppose some stem cell programs because human embryos are destroyed during research.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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