In November 2004, California voters passed the now infamous Proposition 71, calling for a constitutional amendment to guarantee the sale of $3 billion dollars of bonds to fund human embryonic cloning research. Some say that proposition 71 passed by a majority. I say it passed by deception, false promises and whipping up fear that we’d lose our scientific cutting edge. To slog through the ballot initiative text was a daunting task for the most earnest of voters. Some 10,000 words that argued, if passed, would cure disease, save lives and reduce health care costs by billions – plus secure California’s position of being first in the world in stem cell research.

After the passage of prop. 71, Senator Deborah Ortiz, who had supported the proposition, started to back pedal and tried to correct some of the problems. Mainly, the risks associated to women’s health as it relates to egg harvesting and the financial transparency, fiscal accountability and oversight inadequacies. Amazingly the voters in California had essentially handed a blank check to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to build labs, hire researchers, patent therapies and make huge profits, while conflicts of interest ran amuck, women’s health was jeopardized and no guarantee that poor or uninsured California citizens would have access to any therapies or treatments which may or may not be developed. The authors of prop. 71 were shrewd. They had gone for the whole enchilada and after a public relations campaign fitting any Nobel laureate prize winning scientist, promising cures for a whole litany of diseases and plummeting health care costs because of the cures promised—prop. 71 passed. And Senator Ortiz became a convert overnight, trying to repair the damage.

First, she wrote legislation designed to protect the women who donate their eggs for research. S.B. 1260 has now been passed in the Assembly. This bill strangely only covers women donating their eggs for research not conducted with prop. 71 funding. Remember, prop. 71 is a constitutional amendment, therefore no changes can be made without bringing it back before the voters. S.B. 1260 allows women to only be compensated for ‘direct expenses’ associated with egg harvesting in order to remove any monetary incentives or coercive maneuvers to entice women to sell their eggs. ‘Direct expenses’ is a fuzzy term which will be hard to define and monitor. The bill also requires women be fully informed of the risks involved in hyperstimulation of their ovaries and the risks associated with the surgical procedure to harvest the eggs. Women can not be properly informed of the risks because no short or long term studies on egg donors have ever been done. And the reported deaths of women in the U.K. and in the U.S. suggest nothing short of a moratorium on egg donation for research is needed. That will protect women.

Most recently, Senator Ortiz issued this press release after S.B. 401 was defeated. She hoped that S.B. 401 would allow, “California voters to fill in significant gaps in Proposition 71 by strengthening public oversight of how their $3 billion-$6 billion investment in stem cell research is spent.” (The $3 billion to $6 billion conversion adds the interest on the bond debt.) The press release ends with this statement. “The bill was steadfastly opposed by the CIRM and the ICOC, the two entities the bill would have opened to increased public scrutiny. This is nothing but an example of a special interest group killing legislation to avoid being held accountable to those it serves.”

Remember, this was an initiative authored and sponsored by members of the ICOC and CIRM, which Senator Ortiz supported and encouraged her constituency to vote for. And now she is calling them a special interest group.

*update: Since the passage of Proposition 71 in November 2004 no bonds have been sold. Immediately after passage, lawsuits were filed on behalf of People’s Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation. The lawsuit is before the court of appeals and depending on the courts decision, it is expected either side will go on to the California Supreme Court. The basis of the lawsuit is from Article 3, Section 16, in the California State Constitution—all expenditures from the state treasury must be under the exclusive management and control of the state.

Author Profile

Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.