California’s Questionable Stem-Cell Proposal

Date: 10/05/2004

Richard M. Doerflinger

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

To say that California’s controversial Proposition 71 would fund “both adult and embryonic stem cell research” is somewhat misleading (“Stem-cell research remains divisive,” Nation, Saturday).

Theoretically, the initiative would make California borrow $3 billion to fund research using all kinds of stem cells–cells from adults, from “spare” embryos in fertility clinics and from embryos specially created by cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer). However, Section 5 of the initiative says that to ensure that this funding “does not duplicate or supplant existing funding, a high priority” will be placed on research that “cannot, or is unlikely to, receive timely or sufficient federal funding, unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research.”

Thus, top priority will go to research that destroys new embryos for their cells, to cloning and to anything else too unethical or too bizarre to win federal support.

At the Senate hearing mentioned in your article, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, tried to blame the existence of this costly and irresponsible state initiative on the limitations of current federal policy. He asked me, as a witness at that hearing, whether the federal government shouldn’t expand its policy to cover new embryonic stem cell lines, to discourage such wild experiments in the states. I replied that exactly the opposite is true: If the federal policy expands to encourage killing the available “spare” embryos for their stem cells, California’s initiative will automatically devote most of its funds to whatever still remains without federal funding, primarily to human cloning.