Cloning for California?
A money grab for human-cloning research.

Wesley J. Smith
May 06, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

For all of the talk of impending miracle cures to be derived from "therapeutic cloning," the market knows better. Venture capitalists are avoiding financing the immoral research like cats shying away from water. As an article published recently in the Seattle Times summed up the situation, investors "aren't committing billions of dollars," in cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research because "society hasn't clearly decided whether the research is moral," "the field is too risky," and researchers "don't know how to do it cheaply, conveniently, or consistently enough to make it a viable business."

Stymied by the wisdom of investors' caution, but intent on learning how to clone human life reliably, the industry and its allies in the science and bioethics establishments have resorted to a Plan B: Get taxpayers to foot the bill. The most audacious of these special-interest money grabs is now unfolding in California, where supporters of human-cloning research have amassed a $20-million budget to pass the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act (CSCRCA). If passed in November, the bill would both create a right to engage in human-cloning research and pay for it by forcing cash-strapped Californians to borrow $3 billion via the issuance of bonds.

The initiative is thoroughly disingenuous. It was written in obscure and arcane language intended to hide its true agenda even to the point that human embryos are labeled as mere "products."

Instead of providing a full accounting of their proposal, proponents appear to be planning a television barrage of feel-good hype, probably fronted by disabled movie star Christopher Reeve, which will seek to convince people that this pork-barrel bill is really a box full of silk purses. Proponents will claim that passing the bill is likely to bring quick medical cures quickly to market. But if that were really true, the industry would have to beat private investors off with a stick, as is already happening with adult stem-cell research and other areas of biotech.

The time has come to turn on the lights about the initiative so that people can see the game that is really afoot. Here are the real facts about the bill that you can bet its proponents won't be touting:

The CSCRCA is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would create a constitutional right to engage in human cloning. The bill would create a "right" under the California Constitution "to conduct" research into human "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT), human embryonic stem-cell research, umbilical stem cells, and adult stem cells. SCNT is the scientific name for mammalian cloning. (It was the method used to create Dolly the cloned sheep.) Specifically, the measure states, "Pluripotent [stem] cells may be derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer..." This means that researchers would be authorized to create cloned human embryos and extract their embryonic stem cells for use in research. Or to put it another way, if passed, it would create a constitutional right to create cloned human life solely as an experiment.

It would hasten the day of "reproductive cloning." The CSCRCA would not fund "human reproductive cloning," which is defined as conducting SCNT cloning "for the purpose of implanting the resulting product [a cloned human embryo] in a uterus to initiate a pregnancy." However, cloned human embryos could be "initially" maintained for "8-12 days after [embryonic] cell division begins," which is long past the time that the cloned embryos would become implantable in a womb. Thus, at the very least, the knowledge gained by human cloning research funded by the CSCRCA could also be used to learn how to engage in reproductive cloning. Moreover, the modifier "initially" was not included in the bill by accident: It creates a huge loophole allowing a later extension of time during which cloned human embryos could be maintained. This brings to mind the New Jersey cloning law passed this year that permits cloned human embryos to be implanted and gestated through the ninth month.

Adult stem-cell research would take a back seat to embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning. As I have repeatedly noted, adult stem-cell research is advancing at a breathtaking pace, and indeed, is already in early human trials. Despite this, the CSCRCA pushes adult stem-cell research to the back of the line by explicitly giving "priority" to funding "research opportunities that cannot or are unlikely to receive timely or sufficient federal funding unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research." There are no federal funding or significant regulatory impediments to pursuing adult stem-cell research. But embryonic stem-cell research is limited to cell lines in existence before August 2001. And the federal government does not fund research into human SCNT at all. Hence, the measure would appear to require that cloning and embryonic stem-cell research receive most of the borrowed money that will be given to biotech companies and university researchers should the bill pass.

Biotech companies and researchers must to be paid an average of $295 million per year no matter how bad the California economy becomes. The CSCRCA is a constitutional amendment that would require funds to "be continuously appropriated without regard to fiscal year, be available only for the purposes provided herein, and shall not be subject to appropriation or transfer by the Legislature or the Governor for any other purpose." In other words, the measure explicitly removes funding decisions from the California legislature. This means that even if Los Angeles falls into the Pacific, biotech researchers must receive their $295 million in research grants every year.

The California Stem Research and Cures Act is one of the most radical measures ever conceived. It would require California to borrow money to fund research into human cloning at a time when California is in the midst of the worst budget crisis in its history, and when the current medical needs of the poor, developmentally disabled, and elderly are under increasing strain. The arrogance of Big Biotech clearly knows no bounds.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His next book, to be published in the fall, is Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World.