Friday, September 05, 2008

A Partial Case for a Deep Outside Look at CIRM

California patient advocate Don Reed has embarked on a letter-writing campaign to have the governor of the state veto legislation aimed at ensuring affordable access to taxpayer-financed stem cell therapies.

Of course, Reed, a longtime and effective advocate for stem cell research, does not see the legislation that way. In an appeal on his blog to the patient advocate community, he warns that SB1565 "intends to restructure" the board of directors of the $3 billion California stem cell research effort. With all due respect to Reed, he has overstated the case in a way that does not necessarily well-serve the best interests of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

His assertion is based on the measure's request for a study of CIRM by the state's bipartisan Little Hoover Commission. Even if the commission performs the study and recommends structural changes, their enactment is remote. They would have surmount a huge barrier, including possible alterations in the state Constitution. That would require a two-thirds vote in both house of the legislature and a vote of the people.

Reed's latest outpouring against the legislation embodies in some ways the deep-seated concerns among some stem cell advocates that somehow CIRM could be thwarted. Many supporters of the state research effort are wary of any public scrutiny of the agency. They are blind to blemishes. They regard any evaluation or analysis of the effort as destructive. The true believers also sometimes seem to be bent on funding hESC research regardless of whether the state of California benefits significantly from the expenditure of $6 billion in public funds, including interest.

Prop. 71 created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The ballot measure was not hammered out in a public process. It was written behind closed doors with no public input. It was put before the people because someone ponied up $1 million-plus to gather the necessary signatures to place it on the ballot. The initiative placed representatives of the beneficiaries of the $3 billion in grants in control of the rules for giving away the money, a built-in conflict-of-interest that naturally raises concerns. Prop. 71 also created difficulties that have repeatedly hampered CIRM's operations, including an unusual quorum arrangement that forced directors last month to fill out their panel by picking a member from the audience. All of which is legal under Prop. 71. And then there is the dual executive arrangement that helped to create unhealthy management tension early on.

All public agencies need and deserve outside scrutiny. It is one of the basic principles of American government and is embodied in the concept of checks and balances amid the three branches of government. CIRM operates largely without those checks. For all practical purposes, it is free from fiddling by the executive or legislative branches of California government.

CIRM is an extraordinary experiment, unprecedented in California history. Some believe it could serve as a model for successfully tackling other difficult social problems. It is important that it be successful, fulfilling its mission efficiently and in a manner that recognizes its first responsibility is to the public – not the scientific community, not patient advocates and not industry. They are all exceedingly important constituencies, but CIRM is first a public endeavor. If CIRM is perceived to be under the control of those groups, its credibility will be damaged. Public trust can be mercurial. It can easily vanish overnight, and the whole field of hESC research can become besmirched.

Corporations regularly pay hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – to outside consultants to analyze and critique their operations as they strive to remain efficient and competitive. The Little Hoover Commission will basically do the same job for free for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. CIRM should welcome the commission and use the opportunity to build support for making some of the difficult changes that could make it more successful in its mission. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps New Jersey can loan Luna the Cockatoo to California to recite Help Me! Help Me! enough times that people will listen. Proposition 71 is Arrowsmith for the 21st century.