A Marin radio talk show host attacked President Bush's opposition to stem cell research, saying Bush and others fighting Proposition 71 on the state's Nov. 2 ballot "are intentionally misleading people who aren't well-informed" on the issue.
"Bush is pandering to people who are less informed, and who respond to him because they see it as a religious issue," said Peter B. Collins, host of syndicated All American Talk Radio, which has offices in San Rafael. "He frames it in terms that parallel the debate over abortion rights."
Collins says Bush "leaves the inference that an embryo is morally equivalent to a fetus, intentionally misleading people who aren't well-informed."
But the debate over Prop. 71 does not break down into camps, such as the religious right versus the liberal left, or Republican versus Democrat. Some local scientists who otherwise back stem cell research say they have strong concerns about the measure.
Marin bioethicist Alan Miller, a member of ProChoice Alliance Against Prop. 71, a coalition of scientists and medical experts, says the California ballot measure lacks strong enough ethical protections against cloning, does not have strict financial controls and "jumps the gun" on programs that should be started by the federal government, not the state.
"I'm totally in support of everything to do with stem cell research," said Miller, of Marinwood, an author and former University of California at Berkeley bioethics teacher. "But Proposition 71 is a real handout to the biotech industries with public money - and even though supporters say Proposition 71 opposes human cloning, it does all the research leading up to that point."
Those arguments have no weight with Marin Proposition 71 supporters such as John Ames of Larkspur, whose son has Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), and Frederick Mayer of San Rafael, co-president of the Marin County Pharmaceutical Association.
"There is not a pharmacist I know who does not have a loved one or friend or patients whose life could be saved if adequate resources could be made available by the federal government to develop these stem cell cures," Mayer writes in the Oct. 11 edition of "Drug Topics," a national trade journal.
Organizers of the statewide ballot measure, which would authorize the state to sell $3 billion in bonds to finance stem cell research at medical institutions in California, say it is gathering widespread support.
"It's an enormous coalition - more than any other statewide health care issue, ever," said Fiona Hutton, spokeswoman for Yes on 71. "We've raised over $17.5 million, we've been endorsed by thousands of individuals, 23 Nobel prize winners, 30 medical institutions - there's a massive amount of momentum behind this campaign."
The most recent public opinion poll, conducted Sept. 23 by the Los Angeles Times, showed Prop. 71 leading by 54 to 32 percent, Hutton said. Television ads began airing in the past two weeks, she added.
Ames, a leader of the Marin effort backing Proposition 71, said groundbreaking science - the discovery of recombinant DNA, for example - has always caused shockwaves.
"There's really not been any type of a medical breakthrough in our history, without the bogeyman scare tactics of what's going to happen," said Ames, whose son could be helped by medical advances spawned by stem cell research. "Jonas Salk, who developed the Salk (polio) vaccine, had people coming out against him; Galileo was put in jail."
But Miller said in a Sept. 5 essay in the Independent Journal that he opposes Proposition 71 "because it is to me a kind of scientific Trojan horse."
"Although it does enable needed stem-cell research, it will also permit California to fund research on the cloning of embryos that may well be the first step on the slippery scientific slope that could someday lead to the cloning of human beings," he said.
Ames, however, said the most prestigious medical experts and scientists - as well as public officials, business groups, chambers of commerce, boards of supervisors, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, patients and families - are endorsing the measure.
"The slippery slope idea, indeed, is a slippery argument," Ames said.
Prop. 71 authorizes research on embryonic stem cells - those being stem cells only a few days old.
Because these cells are young and unformed enough to be made into many other types of cells, they hold the hope of someday being able to regenerate into brain, heart, pancreas or other body parts to replace organ tissues destroyed by disease.
That technology could help David Ames and millions of others afflicted by degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes or stroke, as well as ALS.
"Disease is neither partisan nor denominational," Ames said. "There are a host of Republican political figures - the Reagans, (U.S. Sen.) Arlen Specter and others - who are for embryonic stem cell research."
President Bush in 2001 banned federal funding for stem cell research - except for projects established before that time. Sen. John Kerry, Bush's Democratic challenger on Nov. 2, supports stem cell research and would re-start the programs, Collins said.
"If Kerry is elected, he has said he would change the policy, but under the current administration that's never going to happen," said Collins, who has moderated a radio show on the issue and who, along with Ames, won support on the issue in August from the Marin Board of Supervisors.
"To say California shouldn't go ahead with its own measure, hoping that Bush will have some sort of a catharsis, is pretty unrealistic," Collins said.
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