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California’s Stem Cell Priorities: Is the State Ahead of its Time or Was the Vote a Reactionary Political Decision?

Written by on Monday, August 13th, 2007

In his blog Secondhand Smoke, J. Wesley Smith makes an interesting argument that California’s stem cell priorities have been misplaced.  Wesley points to an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle as evidence for his argument.  The Chronicle article is a human  interest story on State Senator Carole Migden’s push for a state system to collect and store umbilical cord blood.

J. Wesley Smith writes as follows:

This story illustrates how politics has twisted the proper pursuit of regenerative medicine in California. During the last six years or so, the legislature went GA-GA over ESCR and human cloning. It passed a state law explicitly permitting human cloning research. And then, under a $35 million propaganda barrage, state voters agreed to an initiative (Proposition 71) that created a constitutional amendment to permit human cloning research and to fund SCNT and ESCR to the tune of $3 billion over ten years using borrowed money–meaning the actual cost will be about $7 billion. And all to pursue utterly unproven and ethically contentious approaches to regenerative medicine–and to supposedly “defy Bush,” even though Bush has done nothing to prevent state jurisdictions from funding whatever they want.

And yet, the legislature is only now getting around to creating an umbilical cord blood banking policy

Smith certainly makes a strong argument that California’s priorities have been misplaced.  The question for those of us in California: is he right?

Certainly, there is evidence that State taxpayers’ decision to fund stem cell research was a purely political one.  It is no secret that President Bush will not go down in the record books as the most adored President in this state.  One can absolutely make the argument that the decision to fund stem cell research was in part a reaction to the President’s repeated opposition for stem cell legislation, particularly since stem cell research is such a popular issue in this state.

Of course, a counter-argument could also be made that this State’s economy will be supported by the investment into stem cell research, since the investment will go largely toward hiring people to conduct the studies.  Many jobs will likely be created by the investment, which will trickle down to the economy at large.

However, one cannot help but wonder if the money couldn’t have been better spent elsewhere, even if you are a supporter of the biotech industry and of the concept of the research generally.  Our schools, health care, keeping drugs off the street, illegal immigration, crime, overcrowded prisons, and terrorism are just some of the many issues facing this state that could have also been better funded with the same money.  Did we as taxpayers make a good decision when we voted to use the funds instead on stem cell research?

It’s a thought-provoking question that all Californians should  consider.

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