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Genetic Crossroads
September 23rd, 2004

When Californians cast their votes this November, they will be asked to decide the fate of Proposition 71, the $3 billion California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act.

Most reports have presented the story as a two-sided conflict: on the one side, biotech researchers and patient advocates seeking cures for a range of diseases; on the other, religious conservatives opposed to the destruction of human embryos.

But in fact there are three distinct political positions on Proposition 71. Many progressive, liberal, and pro-choice groups and individuals who support increased federal funding for embryonic stem cell research nonetheless have deep concerns about Proposition 71. They argue that the measure

  • fails to provide public accountability for a very large public investment,
  • fails to adequately regulate techniques that pose unique risks,
  • grants the biotechnology industry a privileged role in public policy decisions,
  • burdens Californians with added debt when the state's deficit already threatens social programs, and
  • could undermine health equity and women's health.

Proposition 71 backers – supported by the biotechnology industry, Silicon valley billionaires and Hollywood celebrities – have amassed a war chest of $15 million for a campaign featuring television ads appealing to the compassionate desires of California voters to assist those suffering from disease. Proposition 71 will have profound implications for the politics of human genetic technologies far beyond California’s borders.

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