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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

A penny wasted

 
 

“Waste not, want not,” the old saying goes. Despite recalling their last governor for mismanagement, voters in California assured themselves of wasting $200 million a year for the next 30 years. On Nov. 2, Californians approved Proposition 71, which authorized the state to fund embryonic stem cell research with the hope that scientists will be able to discover cures for numerous diseases.
They may not have been deceived, but given the obvious flaws of the proposal, voters probably did not know what they were endorsing when entering the voting booth. Persuaded by movie stars and good intentions, Californians agreed to the bond-funded research proposal with a total cost of $6 billion.
Even in California, that’s a lot of money. If the investment were worth it, one could applaud the citizens making a significant commitment in a state still trying to overcome its fiscal nightmares. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, Proposition 71 was a waste of money based on poor science and bad policy.
Opposition to Proposition 71 should have been a hint to its faults. When groups called the Pro-Choice Alliance and the Christian Coalition are on the same side of an issue, one would think there’s a good reason. Some organizations opposed the ballot initiative on scientific, ethical and religious grounds. Others opposed it for purely fiscal and structural reasons. In a rare political feat, both were well founded.
The primary fault of Proposition 71 is the lack of scientific support for its stated purpose, which is utilizing embryonic stem cells to find cures. Although proponents of the measure consistently refer to stem cells in a generic sense, the law itself stated that only embryonic stem cells would be funded unless two-thirds of the oversight committee voted otherwise.
Advocates believe the ability of embryonic stem cells to become any type of cell in the human body merits additional research in the field. Embryonic stem cells are taken from human fetuses in a process that destroys the embryo. Obviously, this raises ethical questions regarding the extents to which scientists are willing to go to in order to find cures. Partly because unique DNA is created upon fertilization of the egg, opponents claim that the destruction of an embryo ends a human life.
Beyond the ethical issues, there are serious scientific concerns as well. Despite considerable media attention and famous spokespeople, there have been only limited advances in embryonic stem cell research. According to The Washington Post, it is unlikely to produce any benefits for one of the most touted causes for research, Alzheimer’s disease.
The most promising stem cells are the least controversial. According to Congressional hearings, adult stem cells are being used in 56 different treatments for humans, while there are no embryonic stem cell treatments available at this time. The use of adult stem cells has helped patients with various types of cancer, neuro-muscular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, spinal cord injuries and Parkinsons’s disease. Useful stem cells have also been obtained from umbilical cord blood and placentas after childbirth without harming mother or child.
Researchers are encouraged by the real promise of adult stem cells, especially since reports in “The New Scientist” reveal that “a stem cell has been discovered in adults that can turn into every single tissue of the body. It might turn out to be the most important cell ever discovered.”
For some reason, voters in California approved massive investment into research that has produced no results and limited progress, and opponents of embryonic stem cells were not alone in standing against Proposition 71.
The Center for Genetics and Society opposed the measure, even though it supports embryonic stem cell research in principle. This was the case for many Californians, especially when they learned the specifics of the plan. According to the Official Voter Guide from California’s Secretary of State, 50 percent of the $6 billion price tag would go toward paying interest on the loan, while administrative and indirect costs account for another 20 percent. That leaves only 30 percent of the funds to pay for research.
Opponents were also surprised to discover that the proposed law included the authorization for $300 million to be used for real estate developments of research facilities and that the oversight committee would be exempt from laws that allow public access to certain meetings.
It may be too late to keep California from wasting $6 billion in potentially fruitless research, but other states interested in supporting stem cell research should learn from California’s mistake. If investing in scientific studies is deemed to be a good use of taxpayer dollars, citizens should demand that such funding be used in the most ethical way possible, especially when it provides the most hope.

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