Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Worst of Beasts or The Best of Beasts?

Picture the California stem cell agency as an elephantine chimera. Then picture the blind men groping our elephant to come up with pronouncements about the nature of the beast.

That was a bit what it was like in two op-ed pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle. The persons making the pronouncements were State Treasurer Phil Angelides and Jesse Reynolds, program director for the Center for Genetics and Society. Both certainly have their eyes wide open but one could hardly tell they were talking about the same government bureaucracy.

To Reynolds, our elephant "best resembles a publicly funded, privately managed venture capital firm."

He said, "Prospecting for high-risk investments is appropriate in the private venture-capital model, but it is no way to lead a public agency. The institute would be giving out grants with one hand and asking for loans with the other. Too many likely "philanthropic sources" would have an interest in where the grants go, and could expect favors in return for a risky loan. The potential for conflict is just too great.

"Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern by the institute's leadership. Its excessive haste and reluctance to act like a public agency have led to decisions that are inappropriate and put the institute at risk. The "independent citizens" board is neither -- it is dominated by individuals who have a stake in the research. Many have major investments in the biotechnology industry. The top leaders of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine continue to resist applying California's open-meetings laws, the Public Records Act and effective conflict-of-interest provisions to its powerful advisory groups, from which they were exempted by Prop. 71."

To Angelides, the agency is the source of funding for "groundbreaking stem-cell research, which scientists believe holds the key to curing and treating debilitating and life-threatening diseases and injuries that affect nearly every California family."

The folks who have sued the agency, he said, are "(hurting)the millions of people in our state who every day live with AIDS, Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's, heart disease and spinal-cord injuries. It threatens the hope of so many families who look forward to the day when a scientific breakthrough will ease the pain of their loved ones."

Further, Angelides holds the litigants in mighty low regard. "The legal firm of record in the lawsuit -- the Life Legal Defense Foundation -- has a clear ideological agenda that includes outlawing a woman's right to choose. The organization is committed to pursuing its agenda at any expense -- even if it means that their lawsuit threatens to prolong the suffering of more than 8 million Californians with heart disease, more than 500,000 with Alzheimer's disease, more than 30,000 afflicted with spinal- cord injuries, and countless more. Sadly, these tactics are emblematic of the kind of ideological warfare that Californians rejected when they spoke out so clearly against President Bush's efforts to block stem-cell research."

The two men's views are not entirely incompatible but the real question may be whether CIRM will be successful in its efforts to become more than some sort of government/political/venture capital chimera that is viewed with distaste by even some of its supporters.

(For more on chimeras, see the item on this blog, "The Yuck Factor" April 12.) Sphere: Related Content

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