Even as the
California stem cell program attempts to move beyond its
lawsuit-imposed delays, it keeps pushing the limits of acceptable
behavior for a state agency. In just the past month, several
questionable activities have generated new controversy.
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is trying to
create a loophole around a prohibition in Proposition 71, the ballot
measure that created the CIRM, on paying women to provide eggs for
research cloning. The latest version of the agency’s research standards
contains new language that would allow payments for “donations” in
which eggs from a single retrieval process would be divided between
reproductive and research purposes.
staff assert that the payment would be for only the eggs that would be
used for reproduction, while the eggs that would be used for research
would be considered donations —although, of course, the eggs themselves
would be indistinguishable. Paying women to provide eggs for research
is widely seen as inappropriate
because it could induce economically vulnerable women to undergo risks
that are known to be significant but are not well characterized. The
National Academies stem cell research committee has also recommended
against the practice. Public comment on the CIRM standards will be accepted through Thursday, June 29.
Klein's election-eve attack
California stem cell czar Robert Klein, chair of the CIRM’s governing board, sent an unusual email to patient advocates
attacking a long-time champion of stem cell research because of her
efforts to reform the CIRM in ways that would help protect the public
interest. In a harshly worded letter emailed the night before
California's recent primary election, Klein criticized state Senator
Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), who was running for California Secretary
of State, for what he called an "anti-research crusade." Ortiz was the
author of several bills supporting stem cell research in the years
before Proposition 71, and was a vocal supporter of the ballot measure.
But since its passage in November 2004, she has authored or co-authored
several bills that would increase government control and public
oversight of the CIRM.
signed the letter as chair of a previously unknown group, Americans for
Stem Cell Therapies and Cures. More disturbing than its misleading and
inappropriate content is Klein's resumption of a stem cell research
advocacy position outside of his role as CIRM board chair. Just after
Klein became chair of the CIRM’s governing board in early 2005, the
campaign structure that he had led transformed itself into a lobbying
and advocacy group, also headed by Klein. Under pressure from the
Center for Genetics and Society and others, who pointed out that a
state official should not also head a lobbying group, he relinquished
his advocacy role.
it appears that Klein has again taken on a highly questionable
position. In a statement, Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures,
the new group, confirmed that it is a descendant of the Yes on 71
campaign, that it is chaired by Klein, and that it operates out of his
corporate office. Click here to read Klein’s letter, the group’s statement, and more analysis.
Donation from biotech executive
As reported in the last issue of Genetic Crossroads,
the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was the beneficiary
of a gala fundraising dinner held on May 22. Under public pressure, the
CIRM released the names of the donors,
but not their institutional affiliations. Internet research revealed
that at least one is the CEO of a company that plans to seek grants
from the agency.