LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: California Legislature: An Update on Funding Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The California Legislature is considering AB 1901 (Wieckowski), which would add $3 to fines for traffic violations (except parking offenses). The money is to go to fund the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act (The Roman Reed Bill). This Bill, signed in 2000 and renewed twice since then, established the California Spinal Cord Research Fund (also known as the Roman Reed Program, not to be confused with the Roman Reed Foundation2). This fund is overseen by the University of California, and pays for specific research projects as well as the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. The purpose is to fund scientific research that will find cures for spinal cord injury. About $14 million has been spent already.

With California’s financial meltdown, funding for this type of program is being cut left and right. In an effort to save this particular program, AB 190 would tack three extra dollars onto each (already expensive) traffic violation fine. The money thus raised would go to the Roman Reed Program.

Proponents of the bill cite several reasons for support:

  • Money is needed to find a cure for spinal cord injury—unarguably a traumatic and difficult injury impacting hundreds of thousands of Californians; the money that has been already spent (from general funds) has resulted in significant research—a cure may be right around the corner.
  • A lifetime of paralysis and its complications costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Much of these costs are paid for by the state. Finding long-term cures for spinal cord injuries would save that money.
  • Traffic accidents are the cause of spinal cord injury about 40% of the time; making reckless drivers pay seems like just retribution.

There are, however several reasons to oppose the bill:

  • This money is going to fund human embryonic stem cell research. Unlike the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the Roman Reed Program is not limited to funding hESC research, but it is also a strong proponent of hESC research and the Reeve-Irvine Research Center is used for hESC research.
  • The accumulated cost of this type of fund is prohibitive. The fines for traffic offenses are already impossible for the poor to pay. It is unfair to keep piling on fees for special interests.
  • This bill diverts funds from essential government services. Spinal cord injury research is important, but that does not mean California can suspend essential government functions in order to fund it. Essential state services have already been cut severely. At such a time, spending should be prioritized, and if it is possible to levy an extra $3 off fines, it should go to essential services such as keeping the schools and courts and basic health care operational.3
  • The perceived need for this funding highlights the ineffectiveness of this type of program. The initial Roman Reed program was slated to sunset in 2005 but was renewed. CIRM, a similar state-funded research program dedicated to human embryonic stem cell research has similarly failed to produce any real cures, despite spending millions of dollars. As a matter of fact CIRM has collaborated with the Roman Reed Research Fund on certain research efforts. Realizing how ineffective CIRM has been why would California want yet another funding mechanism for this type of research? This proposal goes to show how insatiable the appetite for special interest funding is. Even bills with sunset provisions written into them end up continuing indefinitely as their proponents seek extension upon extension.

LLDF urges California residents to oppose this bill that will lead to further wasteful spending and increased loss of innocent and helpless human life at the very beginning stages of development. Although the funding mechanism would still present a problem, LLDF’s opposition would be significantly lessened if there were a guarantee that these funds would be spent only for ethical research using adult stem cells which have proven again and again to offer true hope for patients suffering from numerous debilitating conditions.4

1 AB 190 may be read at http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/billtrack/text.html?bvid=20110AB19099INT.
2 There has been some confusion as to whether the funds went to a private foundation, the Roman Reed Foundation. See http://www.stemcellbattles.com/. This is apparently not the case—this foundation has strongly lobbied for the bill, but would not stand to gain direct funding under it (apparently). The confusing thing is that most information available about the California Spinal Research Fund comes through the website of the Roman Reed Foundation—thus the confusion between the two institutions is understandable.
3 See http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/2011/04/04/california-ab-190-would-divert-traffic-ticket-funds-to-medical-research/.
4 See, e.g., the recent success with regenerating heart tissue http://www.lifenews.com/2011/04/04/scientists-grow-human-heart-in-lab-using-adult-stem-cells/.