It is thus odd that Big Biotech, its university life science business partners, and their rich supporters want the state to borrow $3 billion ($6 billion, including interest) to pay for human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, biotech fields that private investors generally shun because they are unlikely to bring marketable products to doctors’ offices any time soon.

But the industry’s hubris apparently knows no bounds. This November, probably fronted by therapeutic cloning pitchman Christopher (“Superman”) Reeve, industry supporters will spend $20 million to pass the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act.

This proposal is one of the most radical ever to be brought before any voters at any time. Californians will be told that voting yes will quickly lead to new miracle medical cures using embryonic stem cells. But the game that is really afoot in this borrow-and-research scheme is handing biotechnologists a state constitutional right to engage in human cloning research by authorizing experiments on embryos “derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT), the scientific name for mammalian cloning. (SCNT was the procedure used to manufacture Dolly the cloned sheep.)

Proponents will argue that the measure also would allow state funding of adult stem cell research. But funding “priority” in the bill is given to paying for research “that cannot or are unlikely to receive timely or sufficient federal funding, unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research.” This can only mean embryonic stem cell research, which the federal government only funds if the cell lines existed before August 2001, and experiments with cloned human embryos, which the government does not fund at all.

Proponents will also assure voters that the act would not permit “reproductive cloning,” by limiting the time during which the research may be conducted on cloned and natural embryos to 12 days from their creation. But this means little. Some of the borrowed taxpayer money would be used to fund research into learning how to create cloned human embryos reliably. This is precisely the type of research required for reproductive cloning to become a reality. Indeed, the South Korean scientist who recently created the first human cloned embryos admitted that his research could lead to the creation of a cloned baby.

In this regard it is also worth noting that the initiative states that the time limit for maintaining cloned and other research embryos “shall initially be 8 to 12 days after cell division begins”-the word “initially” being the crucial modifier. Why leave a big, fat loophole for expanding time parameters later on? Not only does the limit make the measure easier to sell to voters, but also, it leaves the door open to permitting experiments upon cloned human life for increasingly longer periods of time.

Indeed, it is already clear that Big Biotech and researchers in the life sciences do not intend to forever restrict themselves to experimenting upon early embryos. Proof of this larger agenda is found in a New Jersey law that explicitly legalized human SCNT, implantation of the resulting cloned embryos, and their gestation through the ninth month.

Big Biotech’s campaign will be duplicitous and reeking of obfuscation. (For example, the word “embryo” never appears in the proposal. Tellingly, they are instead called “products.”) Still, given a fair debate, the measure is imminently beatable. The last thing California needs during this time of financial famine is a $6 billion pork barrel project to fund scientifically problematic and morally controversial research into human cloning.

Unfortunately, a $20 million campaign coffer can by a lot of propaganda. Unless opponents mobilize effectively to warn voters about what is actually in the proposal and where it would likely lead, Big Biotech’s big money grab just might work.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Encounter Books will publish his new book, Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World, in the fall.