Sunday, September 21, 2008

Advocate Reed Says No Need for Independent Look at CIRM

On Sept. 5, 2008, we carried an item dealing with a proposal for an examination of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine by a bipartisan state department charged with improving government operations.

We said that corporations pay hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for independent assessments of their operations and that CIRM should welcome the opportunity to have a similar study performed for free. The springboard for our comments was an item written by patient advocate Don Reed on his blog, Reed has responded to our item. Here is what he sent us.

"Several days ago David Jensen printed a thoughtful article inquiring why I was encouraging people to write to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ( State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814), urging him to veto Senate Bill 1565.
"The reason is simple. If people like our stem cell program as it is (I do), they should defend it. The Governor will be deciding in the next few days whether to accept SB 1565, or veto it.  This is the only chance we have of preventing SB 1565 from becoming law.
"SB 1565 could completely restructure California’s stem cell research program, as well as removing our state’s official preference for embryonic stem cell research.
"The article criticized advocates like myself who are allegedly “blind to blemishes… (and who) regard any evaluation or analysis of the effort as destructive.”
"I don't see it that way. As someone who attends and participates in most of the meetings of the stem cell program, I see a constant and vigorous process of adjustment and correction.  The CIRM has had (by my count) four in-depth official audits; the California Court system has examined our (California’s) structure.  Evaluation and analysis is ongoing, and the public is involved in every step of the way. That’s good; it’s democratic; it’s necessary.
"What I do object to is throwing out something magnificent after the decision has been made.  California fought for our stem cell program, debated over it, and voted.
"Why did we have to use the initiative process?
"I fought for three years trying to pass the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act—and California ended up with only $1.5 million a year for that program. It is a good program, spending $12 million, but bringing in more than $50 million dollars in matching grants, new money for the economy—but it is so little, compared to the need.
"As a grass roots organizer I helped with Senator Deborah Ortiz’s groundbreaking legislation. She did a terrific job, gaining permission for the (then) controversial new medical procedure. To me, she will always be the Mother of California stem cell research. But those bills came with no money. It took a real fight to get a lousy hundred thousand bucks to run a committee, and no research money whatsoever.
"I remember a group of advocates meeting with Senator Barbara Boxer, a true friend of research, and she told us: “What you need is billions of dollars, and we can’t get that for you in Sacramento.” 
"So Sacramento couldn’t raise the money to fund the research. Washington dropped the ball for political reasons.
"But California came through.
"Embryonic stem cell research offers hope for cure not only for my paralyzed son, but also for Sarah Palin’s boy who has Down’s Syndrome, and for millions more who suffer with incurable illness or injury.  
"SB 1565 would remove California’s official preference for embryonic stem cell research, which was the reason we passed the program in the first place. Unfortunately the new Republican platform calls a complete ban on embryonic stem cell research, both public and private, criminalizing it completely. SB 1565 is co-authored by Senator George Runner, a long-time opponent of embryonic stem cell research, and if that bill passes, it could provide ammunition to the opponents of the research.
"And the program itself? The California structure--with decisions made by patient advocates and experts-- was designed specifically to keep the focus on the quest for cure. No one wanted it to become a self-serving bureaucracy, rambling around in search of reasons to justify its existence, making endless speeches and not actually doing a lot.
"We wanted intelligent action, and we got it.
"So of course we are going to defend it. Can someone point me to a better program, anywhere in the world?
"If so, let me know. In the meantime, I think we should protect what we won.
"Anybody that cares about stem cell research should write Governor Schwarzenegger today. (tip: on the outside of the envelope, put VETO S.B. 1565, that helps them."

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