Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, has boosted a California ballot proposition that would provide $3 billion in funding for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research within the state, by donating $400,000 in support of a 'yes' vote. The bill, known as proposition 71, will be voted on in state elections on 2 November, the same day as the US presidential elections take place.
If passed, California would become the first US state to publicly fund ES cell research: $295 million in state funds would be provided annually, for ten years, to Californian universities, institutes and companies wishing to conduct ES cell research, subject to certain limits. Proposition 71 would also create a 29-member panel to determine how the funds would be administered. Bill Gates is said to have contributed to the fund because he 'believes in the promise of science and research and development to create new ways to improve health and wellbeing around the world'.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the campaign in support of proposition 71 has a 'large financial edge' over an opposition campaign run by the group Doctors, Patients and Taxpayers for Fiscal Responsibility. The campaign, run by Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures and known as 'Yes on 71', has attracted over $10.7 million in donations, compared to the $75,000 said to have been raised by the opposition group. In the lead-up to the ballot, 'Yes on 71' says it will lead a mass advertising campaign, including slots on TV and radio, as well as postal advertising.
Meanwhile, a number of prominent speakers at the Republican Party's national convention last week have aired their views against ES cell research. Senator Sam Brownback, a constant campaigner against all forms of human cloning, told the convention that 'every life must be honoured and protected'. He added that there should be 'respect for the inherent dignity, equality and sanctity of every human life'.
Senator Bill Frist, leader of the Senate majority and another known ES cell research opponent, defended President Bush's policy against allowing federal funds to be used for ES cell research, except on ES cell lines already in existence on 9 August 2001. Frist said that such research involves the 'destruction of lives of unborn children' and said that embryos 'deserve moral respect'. 'This President will not use your taxpayer dollars to destroy human life or create human embryos solely for the purpose of experimentation', he added. He went on to attack the views of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate.