Stem cell research trial hinges on proper implementation
By Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service
February 27, 2006
HAYWARD (BCN) -- Attorneys clashed today over the constitutionality
of California's $3 billion voter-approved stem cell research program.
In opening statements in a non-jury trial in Alameda County Superior
Court, attorneys for taxpayer organizations and a bioethics group
alleged that the lack of direct state control over the California
Institute of Regenerative Medicine's finances violates the state
But state Deputy Attorney General Tamar Pachter, who is defending
the institution, said Proposition 71, which was approved by 59
percent of California voters who went to the polls in November
2004, is being implemented in accordance with the state constitution
and state statutes.
Pachter accused the attorneys who are trying to block the initiative
of engaging in "a tortured interpretation of the constitution"
and said "control mechanisms are working as intended"
to ensure that the program is operating as intended.
Proposition 71 calls for allocating $300 million a year in research
grants for 10 years.
It created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine,
which is based in San Francisco, and its 29-member governing body,
the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee.
Robert Klein, a Palo Alto real estate developer who spearheaded
the ballot drive, chairs the committee.
No grant money has been handed out so far because of legal challenges
by the People's Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation
and the California Family Bioethics Council.
The suits have been consolidated into a single trial before Judge
Bonnie Sabraw, who has set aside two weeks for the case. But trial
participants say it appears that very few witnesses will be called
and that the case may conclude later this week.
Backers put Proposition 71 on the ballot as a response to the
Bush Administration's decision to cap federal funding for stem
cell research at about $25 million annually and impose strict
research guidelines that scientists say limit advances.
President Bush and many other social conservatives oppose some
stem cell programs because human embryos are destroyed during
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say embryonic stem
cells promise more versatility than adult stem cells and could
help people with spinal cord injuries and diseases that include
childhood diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Five people in wheelchairs attended the opening statements today,
as did family members of people with various disabilities and
David Llewellyn, the attorney for the California Family Bioethics
Council, told reporters during a break in the trial today that
the groups who are fighting Proposition 71 in court support adult
stem cell research, and that embryonic stem cell research has
He said, "It's a shame that this immense amount of money
can't be spent for a certain return."
In court, Llewellyn told Sabraw that at a meeting last September,
Ed Penhoet, CIRM's vice chair, illustrated the uncertainty of
the program's financial payoff by stating that it's impossible
to know the value of technology that hasn't been invented yet.
Llewellyn also alleged that many oversight committee members
have conflicts of interest because they have investments in biotech
companies that aim to profit from stem cell research or are affiliated
with universities and other facilities that hope to get funding
for such research.
But Pachter said committee members are "a talented, dedicated
group of people who are not on it for personal or institutional
Pachter said "members are experts in fields that are critical
the mission" of the stem cell program.
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