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Calif. to vote on tax-funded embryonic stem research, cloning

WASHINGTON (BP)–A $3 billion taxpayer-supported plan that underwrites therapeutic cloning and the destruction of human embryos for stem cell research will become a reality Nov. 2 for Californians if a 100-to-1 advantage in fundraising means anything at the polls.

Proposition 71, a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the country’s most populous state, has been leading in polls, although it has struggled to reach 50 percent. An Oct. 21 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed the amendment winning by a margin of 50-39 percent with 11 percent undecided. An Oct. 10 Field Poll showed the amendment favored by a margin of 46-39 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

Opponents are holding out hope that undecided voters will break against the amendment in the final days. They received a boost Oct. 28 when actor Mel Gibson came out against the measure. That news came following weeks of big-name endorsements for the amendment, including support from Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Republican Secretary of State George Shultz.

Gibson, who is Catholic, said he initially supported the amendment but changed his mind.

“I found that the cloning of human embryos will be used in the process and that, for me, I have an ethical problem with that,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “Why do I, as a taxpayer, have to fund something I believe is unethical?”

The cloning aspect of the amendment has received little attention. Proposition 71 goes one step beyond embryonic stem cell research by funding therapeutic cloning, a process that involves the cloning of an embryo solely for the purpose of harvesting its stem cells. The initiative requires that the cloned embryos be destroyed within 12 days.

Therapeutic cloning and the other type of cloning, reproductive cloning, differ only in their final result. In reproductive cloning, the embryo is implanted in a woman’s uterus. In therapeutic cloning, it is destroyed.

“Using human beings at any stage of development for research — to slice and dice, to clone and kill — dehumanizes all of us,” Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families, told Baptist Press. “It teaches us that human life is cheap and [that] if you aren’t otherwise useful, you are targeted to become a slave of society who can be experimented upon and whose cells and organs can be harvested.”

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues. They are found not only in human embryos but in adult sources, such as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and placentas. The procurement of stem cells from an adult source does not harm the donor. Embryonic stem cell research, though, requires that the embryo be destroyed.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research claim that embryonic stem cells have the most potential for creating cures, although that is not evident in the priorities of the multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry, which has invested many times more in adult stem cell research. Also, embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures. Adult stem cell research, meanwhile, has already produced more than 40 treatments.

Thomasson said that opponents of embryonic stem cell research must inform the public about the prospects of adult stem cell research.

“We’ve got to clearly distinguish between good stem cell research and bad stem cell research,” he said. “The good stem cell research doesn’t clone or kill anyone. … Embryo research — whether from humans or from mice — has not produced any medical cures and is not likely to do so in the future became embryonic research is producing tumors that render the experiment completely unsuccessful. Playing God has consequences, and using the youngest human beings for research is something Hitler’s doctors would endorse, but compassionate Americans never should.”

If the initiative passes, embryonic stem cell research, as well as therapeutic cloning, will be funded with up to $3 billion in state bonds over 10 years.

The fundraising contest has been lopsided from the start. With the backing of biotech firms, medical advocacy groups, venture capitalists and others, proponents of the initiative have raised more than $24 million to promote the effort, according to Cybercast News Service. Opponents of Prop 71 have barely raised $200,000, the Chronicle reported.

That says all that needs to be known about the probable outcome, and Christians will be partly to blame, a bioethicist opposed to Prop 71 said.

“With odds like that, Mickey Mouse could be elected the next governor of California,” said C. Ben Mitchell, an associate bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago, Ill.

“Christians are guilty of not being sufficiently galvanized on this issue,” said Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Either because of apathy, misinformation or naiveté, they have been unable to mount a meaningful response to this particular assault on nascent human lives. If the church cannot help raise more than this to stop the embryo-destructive juggernaut, we might as well give up; the battle is over, the enemy has won.”

While pro-lifers oppose the initiative, some feminists, as well as those who charge the measure is fiscally irresponsible, also are numbered among its foes. It is estimated Californians will pay $3 billion in interest, in addition to the $3 billion principal, for the bonds.

Researchers and their institutions promote the initiative because they “can visualize making millions by creating and patenting embryonic stem cells and turning them into cash cows,” said David Steven, executive director of the Christian Medical Association.

“Proposition 71 guarantees a cash stream to researchers without even requiring a return on the investment,” Stevens said in a written statement. “That’s simply welfare for scientists.”

Opponents charge that the text of the initiative is misleading. For instance, the words “embryo” are “embryonic” are not used. Instead, embryonic stem cell research is called by its scientific name, “pluripotent stem cell research.” Embryos from fertility clinics are dubbed “surplus products of in vitro fertilization.” Additionally, therapeutic cloning is called “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” also a scientific term.
With reporting by Michael Foust & Tom Strode.

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