Hollywood Celebs Promote Embryonic Stem Cell Research in California
by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
April 12, 2004
Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — Some Hollywood heavyweights are teaming up in an effort to promote anti-life embryonic stem cell research in California.
"Gladiator" producer Douglas Wick and "Ghost" director Jerry Zucker are mounting a campaign to put an initiative on the November ballot that would raise $3 billion for fetal stem cell research, which involves the destruction of human embryos.
Wick, Zucker, and other Hollywood insiders are promoting the campaign as an effort to eliminate potentially life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
However, pro-life observers note that, like many Hollywood movies, the claims made by advocates of embryonic stem cell research are purely fictional.
To date, a number of the research trials involving embryonic stem cells have proven disastrous. In contrast, research using adult stem cells, which does not involve the destruction of embryos, has proven quite promising.
Yet, mainstream media reports continue to provide misinformation — not only about embryonic stem cell research itself, but also about public opinion about the pro-life position on the issue.
For instance, a recent Wall Street Journal report on the ballot initiative spotlighted Dick Seaberg, whose grandson has juvenile diabetes. Seaberg, who was trying to collect signatures to place the initiative on the California ballot, was described as "a 70-year-old anti-abortion Republican."
Pro-life leaders worry that such reports will leave readers with the false impression that one can be "pro-life" and still back fetal stem cell research.
In reality, such research involves harvesting the stem cells of embryos, who are then killed, once the cells have been procured.
Thus, backers of the initiative are promoting the idea that it’s alright to kill–as long as it’s for a good cause, such as diabetes research.
A counter-campaign highlighting the drawbacks of the ballot initiative is already being organized, but its leaders are withholding comment for the time being.
The ballot initiative raises a host of ethical, moral, scientific, and public policy questions. Promoters of the ballot effort are bypassing government officials in an effort to take their case directly to voters — a potentially dangerous precedent, given the complexity of the issue involved.
The Wall Street Journal has said that, "If successful, the initiative could change the U.S. scientific landscape and send a message that the White House faces significant dissent over its decision not to provide federal funds for some stem-cell research."
However, rather than providing an accurate gauge of public opinion, the ballot campaign is showing just how far the biotech industry will go to raise money.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the proposal would generate as much as $295 million a year for the biotech industry and universities.
The money would be raised through the sale of state bonds. Backers of the effort claim it could also boost the West Coast state’s sagging economy, by turning California into the hub for embryonic stem cell research.
The state is already home to 40 percent of the nation’s biotech firms.
But California may not be able to afford a biotech program which could prove to be a boondoggle. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates stem-cell bonds would cost $6 billion to pay off over 30 years. The state already faces a $12 billion shortfall in its 2004-2005 budget.
The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative has also received an endorsement from Nobel Prize-winner David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology.
The campaign is receiving money and lobbying aid from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, which is known for its celebrity connections. Actress Mary Tyler Moore is a Juvenile Diabetes activist, and CNN talk show host Larry King is on the foundation’s board.
Promoters of the ballot effort are counting on the sympathy factor to help win votes. Nearly 85 percent of the state’s residents have a relative or friend with diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or a spinal cord injury.
Real estate developer Robert Klein, who’s leading the ballot drive effort, claims all five conditions could be treated with embryonic stem cells, although the research itself shows less-than-promising results.
Under a Bush Administration policy announced in 2001, the federal government is permitted to fund research on stem cells that had already been extracted from embryos–but it is not allowed to study any new supplies.
Organizers of the ballot campaign need to gather 700,000 signatures by Friday to make it onto the ballot. It has been estimated that the cost of running the overall campaign could top $20 million, given the high cost of California advertising time.
A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that the politician has no official position on embryonic stem cell research.
Meanwhile, such stem cell research has been largely discredited worldwide.
In testimony before the President’s Council on Bioethics, Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "The risks of allowing the research community to set the policy agenda can be seen in several states where bills on stem cell research were recently introduced with the support of state biotechnology alliances.
"These bills are designed to authorize the use of embryonic, fetal or even (in some cases) adult stem cells derived from human cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer). No member of this Council has ever expressed support for such an extreme policy, which seems to envision the ‘farming’ of fetal and even newborn humans as sources of tissues and organs."
In addition, Doerflinger suggested that funding embryonic stem cell research does not make good economic sense.
"Continued diversion of scarce federal research funds toward embryonic stem cell research, when the disease conditions for which it was hailed as a treatment – diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, immune deficiency, spinal cord injury, etc. – are being more rapidly and safely addressed by other means, now threatens to slow medical progress," Doerflinger told the President’s panel.