California Embryonic Stem Cell Research Grants Still Delayed

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 2, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Embryonic Stem Cell Research Grants Still Delayed

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 2, 2005

Sacramento, CA ( — As a handful of lawsuits against the committee charged with distributing billions in grants for embryonic stem cell research have their first day in court, advocates of the unproven research are complaining that the lawsuits could hold up the funding for years.

California voters approved a $6 billion measure in 2004 to authorize taxpayer funds for the grisly practices, but three lawsuits filed over problems with conflicts of interest, intellectual property rights are holding up the funds. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine can’t finance the sale of bonds to fund projects until the lawsuits have concluded.

Two of the lawsuits have their first hearing in an Alameda County court Thursday. Until the lawsuits are completed, the panel is seeking help from anti-disease groups that favor the unproven research, but even that idea faces roadblocks and the potential of more lawsuits.

James Harrison, CIRM’s attorney, contends pro-life advocates are hoping to drag out the endless lawsuits to prevent funding as long as they can.

"Frankly I think that’s the plaintiffs’ goal," he said. "Drag this out, delay it in any way they can, impede the funding of stem-cell research."

But the people behind the lawsuits tell the San Jose Mercury News that’s not the case.

"I’ve never brought a lawsuit for delaying tactics in my life,” said David Llewellyn, Jr., who filed one of the lawsuits. "I’m absolutely convinced there were several very substantial constitutional violations in Prop. 71."

IN addition to conflict of interest concerns and violation of state open meetings laws, Llewellyn’s lawsuit cites a violation of other state statutes in the wording of Proposition 71 and the work of the committee after the election.

The second suit in Alameda County was filed by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, a pro-life law firm, but filed for People’s Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, both taxpayer’s groups.

Dana Cody, director of LLDF says her lawsuit contends CIRM lacks any state oversight and should be prevented from distributing funds.

"Our state is in a financial crisis, and this is $3 billion in taxpayer funding that we really can’t afford," she told the San Jose newspaper.

The California Supreme Court initially declined to hear both lawsuits, saying they should have first gone to local courts. One attorney said he didn’t know how the courts would react to the lawsuits.

Robert Feyer, a partner with the state’s bond counsel, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said "This is really the first one I’m aware of that’s been brought against the state’s general obligation bonds."

Although no more lawsuits can be filed against CIRM over its funding, the two suits are not likely going to be resolved this year, meaning bonds can’t be sold until 2006 at the earliest and some observers say the lawsuits could take as long as two years to go through the system.

With that in mind, the panel has received a $3 million loan from the state and $5 million from music engineering pioneer Thomas Dolby, but that’s far short of the $300 million needed to run the panel’s headquarters and distribute its annual grants.

Some state officials have proposed selling $200 million in anticipation notes to charitable groups, who could write off the purchase as a tax deduction. However, Llewellyn’s suit specifically prohibits such donations and he said he would ask a judge for an injunction if CIRM moves forward with the idea.

The panel had hoped to meet this month to review the first grant proposals — including a three year training initiative for stem cell researchers at medical schools across the state.

Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, who heads up a stem cell research team at the University of California at San Francisco, is seeking funding for a $3.6 million training program for 16 graduate students.