California Stem Cell Research Cmte Ready to Distribute Money

Bioethics   Steven Ertelt   May 2, 2006   |   9:00AM    WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
May 2, 2006

Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — The California committee charged with distributing billions in taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning is ready to get going with the first $300 million in grants after winning the first stage of a lawsuit filed against it.

However, the judge’s decision may be appealed, which could stall grants further.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s Strategic Planning Advisory Committee met on Monday to determine how to disperse the first big round of grants following a small set of gifts to colleges and research institutes to train stem cell researchers.

The funding was held up by two lawsuits sponsored by taxpayer and pro-life groups, which said the committee ran afoul of state conflict of interest and open meetings laws. They also said the state government should have more oversight of the committee since it’s spending state taxpayer funds.

For example, the California Constitution bans the state treasurer from releasing money for any entity not "under the exclusive management and control of the state."

The decision may be appealed, but if it’s not the spending can proceed.

"How do you best spend $3 billion over 10 years? That’s the question the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee is trying to answer," institute spokeswoman Nicole Pagano told the San Francisco Examiner newspaper.

On Monday the committee took input from scientific experts and the public and more regular public meetings are expected as the committee puts together its plan.

John Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has been critical of how the committee has done its business, said he was pleased to see the decision-making process take public input.

"It is tremendously encouraging to see that it was done in public," he told the Examiner.

Simpson said the lawsuit has had a silver lining by causing the committee to institute some reforms in how it does its business.

Still, in an editorial, the Scripps Howard News Service said the committee still has ethics problems.

"For reasons unclear, the institute continues to shield its advisers _ prestigious scientists from out-of-state universities who will be making recommendations on multimillion-dollar grants _ from disclosing their outside income," it said. "Some of that income comes from industries that hope to profit from stem cell research."

"[T]he institute’s oversight board should require its advisers to publicly disclose their outside income," SHNS wrote in its editorial. "Anything less will leave lingering doubts about this freshly certified public agency."