Hubris: No better word describes the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s plan to persuade Californians to borrow another $3 billion to keep it in business funding stem cell research.
The CIRM was created in 2004 in the wake of President George W. Bush’s order restricting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Knowing that many Californians perceived themselves as “the resistance” to everything Bush, the big wallets behind Proposition 71 successfully surfed a tsunami of hype, telling voters that CIRM-funded research would soon liberate disabled children from their wheelchairs while returning abundant profits to the state from licensing fees and reduced medical costs.
The CIRM hasn’t come close to fulfilling those promises. Here’s why California voters should reject the bond issue and shut the agency down in 2014:
- No major research breakthroughs: The CIRM was created primarily to fund human cloning for research and embryonic stem cell research. So far, cloning has failed and embryonic stem cell cures, if they ever come, are a very long way off. (Geron Corp. is conducting a small safety trial for spinal cord injury with an embryonic stem-cell product. The CIRM provided funds to a UC Irvine scientist involved in its development.)Notably, the CIRM played no part in the biggest stem cell breakthroughs of the last decade. In 2007, the entire field was transformed with the invention of induced pluripotent stem cells, embryonic-like stem cells made from ordinary cells such as skin. These cells are already being used in the kind of disease-specific research that Proposition 71 advocates said would require cloning. Meanwhile, adult stem cells are treating myriad afflictions in human trials. Indeed, non-embryonic methods are proving so successful that the CIRM – perhaps desperate to show cures from its spending – recently started funding these fields.
- Mismanagement and conflicts of interest: The CIRM’s funding judgments have also been called into question. Nearly $300 million, for example, went to help pay for plush research facilities — a questionable use of taxpayers’ borrowed money. Conflicts of interest have also abounded, leading the Little Hoover Commission to call the CIRM’s funding board an “insiders’ club.”Nor has the CIRM been frugal in its own shop. Even though California is beyond broke, the CIRM pays top salaries. Its chief makes just under $500,000 a year, more than the president of the United States and twice as much as the governor of California. Meanwhile, Art Torres, a board member and former chairman of the California Democratic Party, works four days a week – for a whopping $225,000 a year.
- California is impecunious: California simply can’t afford the CIRM. The state projects a budget deficit of $28 billion over the next 18 months — after overcoming another $19 billion deficit just a few months ago. Huge cuts of essential state services are pending in education, health care and other areas. Meanwhile, the state’s bond debt exceeds $90 billion – and counting.
Despite all this, like the man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” the CIRM screams, “I want more!” If Californians vote yes a second time, it will prove the truth of P.T. Barnum’s old maxim about a sucker being born every minute.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He is also a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.