Thursday, May 26, 2005

SCA 13: A Yeah and a Compromise

The big dog of California newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, has endorsed legislation that would tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency. Meanwhile, the politically influential Sacramento Bee has offered up a possible compromise on the measure, which is vehemently opposed by the agency.

Lives will be lost is the position of CIRM if the proposal by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, is passed. Ortiz supported creation of the agency and supports stem cell research. But she believes that the agency should be held to standards that generally apply to other state bureaucracies.

The Times, the largest circulation (900,000) newspaper in California, said that "leaders of the (stem cell agency) are engaging in inexcusable rhetoric. If enacted, said the institute's acting chief, the (Ortiz) amendment would 'cripple our efforts.' A board member said it would lead to 'extra suffering and death.'"

The Times continued, "It's understandable that companies and scientists would be unwilling in an open forum to discuss their or others' work related to possible contracts or disclose their patent applications. But SCA 13 makes broad allowances for such discussions to be private."
"From a purely pragmatic standpoint," the newspaper said, "(stem cell chairman Robert) Klein should welcome the constitutional amendment because it could insulate the institute from lawsuits alleging that the lack of public oversight had rendered the stem cell bonds unconstitutional."After all, this isn't Klein's or his board's $3 billion — it's the public's. And public oversight is one of the best ways to guard against public money going astray."

(We should note that the editor of the Times editorial page, Michael Kinsley, has Parkinson's, which many believe could be treated with future cures from stem cell research. It is unknown whether the Times' position on SCA 13 reflects his own.)

The Sacramento Bee, with 300,000 circulation in the Capitol, said:
"California's Legislature and the state's $3 billion stem cell research institute are engaged in a dangerous game of political chicken. No one will win if both keep careening toward the ballot box."

The compromise suggestion The Bee proferred dealt with whether the working group meetings of the agency should be public and whether assurances should be enacted to guarantee that stem cell cures would be available to low income persons.

The Bee said that "there is no reason these (working group) meetings need to be completely closed. Peer reviewers could easily hold open discussions on whether proposed research projects meet the institute's goals and criteria. Then they could move into private sessions to discuss the reputations and qualifications of applicants, consider patent issues and conduct the final scoring. This type of hybrid would help inform taxpayers (and the oversight board) about the projects they are financing, without discouraging candid discussions."

It also said, "A current draft of (Ortiz') measure requires that therapies be made available at cost 'to California residents who are eligible to receive assistance through state and county health care and preventive health programs.' Ortiz's intent is admirable, but this provision is premature. Scientists are still years away from full and final testing of embryonic stem cell therapies, and the institute's oversight board is many months away from discussing their eventual licensing. Lawmakers could easily wait two years before delving into this issue. At that point, they will have legal standing under Proposition 71 to amend the law without a constitutional amendment." Sphere: Related Content

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