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October 24, 2004 - Bond To Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research

A vote in an upcoming election in California centers around a proposition to fund stem cell research using government financing.  The measure would provide for the sale of $3 billion in bonds, allowing about $300 million in grants in each of the next 10 years. With interest payments, the bonds would cost about $6 billion over 30 years.

Embryonic stem cells are widely accepted as having great potential for the study and treatment of conditions such as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and spinal cord injuries. The research may also allow scientists to study why certain cells in the body fail in individuals with genetic diseases. The proposition bans cloning for reproductive purposes.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has given $50,000 to oppose the initiative, as has Howard Ahmanson, a billionaire philanthropist and conservative Christian. Opponents have raised $125,000 so far. Many opponents believe the use of human embryos crosses an ethical line, but the debate on the measure has focused more on cost. Opponents say a state deeply in debt should not be floating bonds to finance research that may never live up to its promise. They also argue that therapeutic cloning could perfect techniques that could be used to clone humans.

The architect of the proposition is Robert Klein II, a wealthy financier with a background in using public corporations to develop affordable housing. Klein, who has donated more than $1.6 million to the campaign, has a 14-year-old son with insulin-dependent diabetes and an 84-year-old mother with Alzheimer's.

Overall, supporters have raised more than $14.5 million from a wide range of prominent donors including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. It is backed by many advocacy groups for people with particular diseases as well as research scientists and a large number of elected officials, including state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly. Supporters also include more than 20 Nobel laureates and George Shultz, who served in the Cabinets of three Republican presidents.

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