Davis signs stem cell research bill

By Jennifer Coleman
Monday September 23, 2002

SACRAMENTO – California opened its doors Sunday to stem cell researchers whose research has been restricted by a federal limits on the cells that come from fetal and embryonic tissue. 

Gov. Gray Davis was joined by actor Christopher Reeve, a stem cell research activist since an accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, in announcing a new law that expressly permits the research. 

Davis, Reeve and other supporters said the legislation is necessary to keep California at the forefront of medical research. 

The bill was opposed by the Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups and contradicts President Bush’s efforts to limit stem cell research. 

Stem cells, which are found in human embryos, umbilical cords and placentas, can divide and become any kind of cell in the body. Opponents contend that the research is tantamount to murder because it starts with the destruction of a human embryo. 

Last year, Bush restricted federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to a select number of existing cell lines. Critics say many of those stem cells are in poor condition and are useless for research. 

Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, authored the bill that states California will explicitly allow embryonic stem cell research, and allows for both the destruction and donation of embryos. 

The bill requires fertility clinics that do in-vitro fertilization procedures to inform women that they have the option to donate discarded embryos to research. It requires written consent for donating embryos and bans the sale of embryos. 

Ortiz and supporters of her bill said the research could be valuable in curing or alleviating chronic and degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries. 

Reeve, an ardent supporter of stem cell research, has been paralyzed since a horseback riding accident seven years ago. He has said that he has regained some feeling in his fingers and toes, but is urging further stem cell research as a way to treat paralysis. 

“Since stem cells were first isolated in 1998, the political debate has had a chilling effect on our scientists,” Reeve said Sunday. “It is painful to contemplate what advances could have been made” if that research wasn’t stifled. 

The move will attract “the best and the brightest” researchers to California, said Larry Goldstein, a professor at University of California San Diego, and halt the migration of stem cell researchers to other countries where it is permitted. 

Movie producer Jerry Zucker also joined Davis in the announcement, saying he learned about stem cell research after discovering that his young daughter had diabetes. 

“After learning the daily routine, we began to ask what was being done to cure diabetes,” he said. “Everyone told us that embryonic stem cell research is her best hope for a cure.” 

Zucker said he immediately discovered “that the biggest obstacle in finding a cure for our daughter is our own government.” 

Congress hasn’t acted on any stem cell research bills, or a bill to ban human cloning, and Ortiz said there was still a question over whether California’s law would be pre-empted by a federal statute. 

Measures pending in Congress range from allowing research to criminalizing it and prosecuting those who traveled abroad for treatment derived from stem cell research. 

Reeve said it will take a grass-roots movement to get federal policy that “truly expresses the will of the people” and he said he hoped California’s law would encourage other states to follow suit. 

“The debate will continue in the country, but these debilitating diseases affect nearly everyone in one way or another,” Davis said. “As the country ages, however, more and more Americans will see the value stem cell research has in enhancing the quality of life for the people they love.”