Thursday, May 17, 2007
California Justices Clear Way for State-Backed Stem Cell Research
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to take up a challenge to the state’s novel, $3 billion stem cell research institute.
The court, at its weekly conference in San Francisco, voted 6-1 not to review the Feb. 26 decision in California Family Bioethics Council v. Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee, A114195. Only Justice Joyce L. Kennard voted to hear the case.
The First District Court of Appeal panel agreed with an Alameda Superior Court judge that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee for the institute,. both created by Proposition 71, a 2004 initiative that drew overwhelming support from state voters, are legitimate public entities under the California Constitution.
Opponents, aided by lawyers with connections to anti-abortion groups, claimed the country’s most ambitious stem cell research agency had too little public oversight to be considered a constitutional agency and that its managers had a host of conflicts of interest. The plaintiffs complained that university officials whose schools were applying for millions in research grants from the stem cell agency should not be on its oversight board.
But Justice Stuart Pollak, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the trial judge that “sufficient state controls exist within the statutory framework,” noting that the overwhelming majority of ICOC members are appointed by elected officials, that the attorney general can bring an action to remove any member who engages in misconduct, that the initiative is subject to amendment by 70 percent vote of both houses of the Legislature, and that “there are significant public and financial accountability standards to which the institute is subject,” including auditing, reporting, open-meetings, and record-keeping requirements.
The appeals court also rejected claims that Proposition 71 violates the Constitution’s single-subject requirement and that the ballot materials for the measure were misleading.
The denial of review clears the way for the institute to dole out billions in research grants that had been held up by the litigation.
“Today’s action by the California Supreme Court is a victory for our state because potentially life-saving science can continue without a shadow of legal doubt,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. Attorney General Jerry Brown, who campaigned as a supporter of stem cell research, said the court’s action “allows California to take on the groundbreaking scientific research that the Bush administration ignored,” he said.
Dana Cody, an attorney for the anti-abortion group Life Legal Foundation, another plaintiff in the suit, said she was not surprised by the ruling.
“I’m really sad that California taxpayers are going to be funding experimental research when there’s been great strides made in adult stem cell research,” she said.
Scientists hope human embryonic stem cells can someday be used to replace diseased tissue, but many social conservatives, including President Bush, oppose the work because human embryos are destroyed during research. Bush has allowed federal funding only for adult stem cell research.
While the lawsuit blocked the agency from using its $3 billion, the agency issued some grants earlier this year after the governor authorized a $150 million loan and philanthropic organizations loaned it another $45 million to fund research.
Robert Klein, who authored Proposition 71 and serves as chairman of the agency’s governing board, said the court’s decision frees up the entire $3 billion, providing California with more resources for stem cell research than any other nation in the world.
Still, Klein said, the Bush administration’s policy of barring any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is blocking facilities in other states from moving forward.
“The key message is that California is free from these limitations imposed by the extreme right for ideological reasons and this nation needs to be free from these unreasonable restraints,” he said. “Everyone with a family member suffering from chronic disease needs the entire nation working on therapies, not just one state.”
In other conference action, the justices agreed to decide whether an agreement to develop historic Laurel Place in West Hollywood requires an environmental impact report. Div. Eight of this district’s Court of Appeal ruled in Save Tara v. City Of West Hollywood, (WASET, Inc.), B185656, that it does, rejecting the trial court’s ruling that no EIR was required because the agreement lacked finality.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company