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$3 billion embryonic stem cell measure approved in Calif.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–In perhaps the most controversial vote of the 2004 election, Californians approved a $3 billion bond measure to become the first state to fund embryonic stem cell research and biomedical cloning.

With passage of Proposition 71, California will sell $300 million in municipal bonds each year for 10 years; the payback cost to taxpayers over 30 years is projected to be $6 billion.

“This was an empty promise to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases,” said Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign for California Families. “The biotech and pharmaceutical companies that could not attract private investors decided to fool the electorate into giving them $3 billion with no accountability for performance.”

With 97 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, the measure had won by a 59 percent margin.

Stem cells, obtained from adult sources or from embryos, are master cells that can be reproduced into other cell types. In embryonic stem cell research, tiny infants in the early weeks of development are destroyed after their stem cells are utilized. Embroyonic stem cell research is opposed by pro-family groups that point to adult stem cell research as both ethical and more promising scientifically.

Proposition 71 was funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists and film industry moguls who wanted to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes, according to newspaper accounts. Film star Mel Gibson, who produced the “The Passion of The Christ” blockbuster, was the only Hollywood-connected celebrity to come out in opposition of the measure.

“If cloning human embryos for destruction is so promising, why aren’t private companies paying the $6 billion? Bad science doesn’t attract venture capital,” Gibson said in n a radio advertisement he prepared about the measure.

Gibson’s support, a $64,000 mailing to 180,000 California families by Focus on the Family and the opposition of various conservative groups did not derail passage of Proposition 71, which out-funded opponents’ efforts by about 100 to 1, Thomasson said.

“This is the worst law that California has ever passed,” Thomasson said. “Proposition 71 makes cloning a constitutional right and soaks the taxpayers for $6 billion to engage in junk science that has not healed anyone or cured a single disease.”

Proposition 71’s passage was seen by many of a rebuke of President Bush’s restriction of federally funded research to existing stem cell lines. Despite supporting Bush in his bid for the presidency, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed the measure, in what many saw as support for the state’s burgeoning biotech industry. Companies that receive grants from the bond proceeds must conduct the research in California. Major players may include Amgen Inc., in Thousand Oaks, the world’s largest biotech firm, according to industry analysts, along with Geron Corp. in Menlo Park and StemCells Inc. in Palo Alto. The recent deaths of former President Ronald Reagan and former film star Christopher Reeve from conditions that, according to the measure’s proponents, potentially could be treated by techniques derived from embryonic stem cell research increased support for Proposition 71, several newspapers recounted.

“It will be as if the whole country tips to the Pacific Coast and all the science and academic researchers and venture capitalists that follow biotech will flow to California,” said Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, according to the website onlypunjab.com.

“This legitimizes … cloning and killing the youngest human beings,” Thomasson said. “This cloning law reduces the value of every human being, saying some humans are expendable. We will all suffer financially and morally for this great error California voters have committed.”

Human embryonic stem cell research is always immoral and unethical, said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League in Stafford, Va.

“With the passage of this deadly initiative, California is poised to become the world’s largest killing place,” Brown said. “We urge all Californians who respect the dignity of every human being’s life to speak out against and begin immediate steps to overturn this measure, which endorses the wholesale killing of the youngest members of the human family.”