Long ago in November of 2004, the people of California voted for a ballot proposition that would spend around $6 billion (including interest charges) on cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. It was a strange campaign, vastly lopsided (pro-cloning spending was around 50 times that of the opposition), aided greatly by the late and somewhat unexpected intervention of Gov. Schwarzenegger, and driven by some of the worst hype in the history of American politics. The people of the nearly bankrupt state were promised cures and also cash returns on their investment—within five years. It was said that before principal repayments fell due, there would be cost savings from the cures that would more than cover the vast costs of the project.

Too good to be true? Well, snakeoil has been sold before. As I pointed out (with Jennifer Lahl) in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed before the vote, if you make that kind of claim in an IPO rather than a ballot measure, you can go to jail.

Much has happened since. The bond issue is being held up by court challenges. Liberal supporters of the proposition, including Deborah Ortiz, its key booster in the state senate, have woken up to some of the huge problems it raises—not least, the facts that profits from any "cures" that result will not go to the state and that poor women may be used as egg farms by researchers.

On top of that, a bizarre scheme has been hatched to get nonprofits to fund research while the money is held up in court. But if the courts pull the bond issue, these nonprofits will have to turn their loans into gifts. Bob Klein, the property developer and financial whiz who first ran the campaign and is now running the Institute set up by the proposition, has been fending off ...

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Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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