California stem cell program is legal: Judge

Challengers vow to appeal, making agency's future uncertain

By | April 24, 2006

Hayward, Ca. -- A state judge ruled California's $3 billion embryonic stem cell research program constitutional on Friday (April 21), rejecting claims that the publicly funded initiative is illegal. The program's challengers immediately vowed to appeal, suggesting its legal woes are far from over. After six weeks of deliberation, Judge Bonnie Sabraw ruled that the "plaintiffs have not shown that the act is clearly, positively, and unmistakably unconstitutional," and that "the act and the bonds issued ? are valid.'' The defeated suit alleged that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) governing body is too independent to constitute a true government agency, and so should not be allowed to spend state tax funds. It also claimed that since many members of CIRM's grant review committee are stem cell researchers, or work at universities or businesses that will be applying for grants, conflicts of interest would be unavoidable. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was formed by the passage of California State Prop 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. The ballot measure was approved by 59% of California voters in 2004. But for the past year and a half, CIRM's coffers have been locked shut by legal attacks. As long as the organization's constitutionality remains doubtful, California is unable to sell the bonds required to fund it. While today's decision should finally unlock CIRM's spending doors, further appeals will keep those doors from swinging open, said Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, one of the two groups that brought the suit against the state. She said her organization, the anti-abortion group that also funded legal efforts to keep Terri Shiavo on life support, would appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. CIRM, meanwhile, has asked its challengers to abandon their appeal. "Given the strength of this court decision, the opponents to Proposition 71 should demonstrate their respect for the voters of California?and patient families who suffer everyday with the advance of chronic disease, by dropping their intent to appeal," Robert Klein, chairman of the board of CIRM, said in a statement. CIRM did not return requests for comment. The appeal will continue to tie up CIRM well into 2007, at least. Even if CIRM eventually prevails, said Cody, some of her organization's aims, and those of its partner in the suit, the California Family Council, have already been met. "During the last year and a half, no California tax money has been spent on embryonic stem cell research," Cody told The Scientist. Proposition 71 was passed largely in response to restrictions on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. Don Reed, a Bay Area stem-cell activist whose son suffers from a severe spinal injury, hailed today's victory for CIRM and predicted a quick review by the state Supreme Court. "I hope they'll expedite the appeal, because research delayed is research denied," he told The Scientist. "The starting point for this research in California has already been delayed by a year and a half, said Irving Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. "And when the plaintiffs appeal, as they have declared they will, another 12-18 months will pass," he told The Scientist. "People are dying," said Oswald Steward, a stem cell researcher at the University of California at Irvine and a member of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the group overseeing CIRM. "Somewhere down the road we'll be facing the families of the last people to die of ALS before stem-cell-related cures are developed," he told The Scientist. "And we'll have to live with the fact that the deaths of their loved ones could have been avoided." Gordy Slack Links within this article "Court upholds constitutionality of stem cell program," CIRM, April 21, 2006. I.Oransky, "California oks stem cell measure," The Scientist, November 3, 2004. A.Harding, "California stem cell plans stalled, but alive," The Scientist, February 8, 2006. A.McCook, "California stem cell ball rolling, sort of," The Scientist, September 15, 2005. California Family Council Stem Cell Battles California Stem Cell Report Irving Weissman Oswald Steward Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee

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