Mercury News Editorial
California Could Take Stem Cell Lead
Proposition 71 brings out the best of California. Big, bold and optimistic, it provides the means for the state's best and brightest scientists to eliminate some of life's most devastating diseases.
The long-term benefits are so great that California voters should say yes to authorizing $3 billion in bonds over 10 years for stem cell research. The proposition should be unnecessary. The two major presidential candidates should be stumbling all over themselves to issue a Kennedyesque challenge to the nation, and federal funding should allow U.S. scientists to compete against their colleagues around the world for breakthroughs.
But President Bush has instead offered up $25 million for research on a limited number of stem cell lines-the scientific equivalent of calling for a lunar landing with the tools and funding to build a Cessna. Challenger John Kerry is calling for a $100 million annual investment in stem cell research, but a large number of House Republicans are opposed to research on stem cells beyond Bush's limitation to existing lines. Enter California and Proposition 71.
By providing a reliable stream of money for research, this proposition could make California the global leader in the development of stem cell therapies. The state could become a magnet for the best scientists in the field, creating more biotech jobs and re-invigorating Silicon Valley. Proposition 71 would remove the whims of the federal government from the funding picture. Scientists would have assurances of sufficient long-term dollars to make stem cell research the breakthrough medical technology of the century.
Stem cell research holds the promise of new treatments or cures for more than 70 diseases and conditions ranging from spinal cord injuries to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. Already scientists have taken rats that could barely move due to spinal cord damage and used stem cell technology to enable them to run.
Opponents raise two main objections to the proposition. Some are morally opposed to the use of discarded days-old embryos, saying they represent potential human lives. In that case, the United States should ban in-vitro fertilization, in which thousands of embryos are routinely discarded.
Opponents also question whether the state can afford this. The $3 billion in bonds would be repaid over 30 years at an average interest rate of 5.25 percent, meaning the total cost to the general fund will be around $6 billion, or roughly $200 million per year. It's true that royalties from the research wouldn't cover those costs. But the state will benefit from tax revenues from research jobs and construction of research facilities. Then there's the potential savings on health care, which costs Californians $110 billion annually. If the results of stem cell research could reduce that by just 1 percent, it would pay for itself in the following decade.
History argues that while the costs of the proposition are a certainty, the revenues are not. But history also suggests that without social investments of this nature, horrible diseases that plagued the world for centuries -- polio, tuberculosis and smallpox -- would still be widespread. Californians should recall the March of Dimes campaign, which united the entire country in the singular purpose of eradicating polio. Voters have a rare opportunity in November to cast a vote for optimism. They should acknowledge the promise of stem cell research and contribute to one of society's great medical advances.