California’s stem cell chairman must resign

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Robert Klein, who is chairman of California’s $6 billion stem cell agency, must resign in the wake of an inappropriate personal attack on a state senator by his lobbying group, Americans for Cures.

Despite his position as chairman of the stem cell agency’s board, Klein is also president of Americans for Cures, a stem cell advocacy and lobbying group.  Yesterday the group posted a piece on the influential blog Daily Kos opposing SB 1565, a bill authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl.  

Signed only by Americans for Cures, the article asserts, "Either Kuehl is ignorant on the science, or mindlessly buying into Republican and anti-cures messaging from the Catholic Church, or playing dumb in a craven attempt to get Republican votes to back her legacy as defender of the poor."

The Americans For Cures piece is an over-the-top, hysterical call to battle that assumes any constructive criticism of the agency is an attack.  It’s an unthinking knee-jerk reaction that relies on the you-are-with-us-or-you-are-against-us approach that has no place in serious public policy making.

In fact, the bill does three things. It puts in statute regulations CIRM itself developed governing access to drugs by the uninsured;  it lowers the vote of the scientific working group necessary to recommend funding non-embryonic stem cell research from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority; and it asks the state’s non-partisan Little Hoover Commission to study the governance structure of the agency.

A particular irony in this situation is that since SB 1565 was introduced, Sen. Kuehl’s staff has worked diligently with staff members of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to amend the bill to address concerns the agency raised.

At a meeting this week chaired by state Controller John Chiang, who supports the bill, Klein said the agency needs more flexibility in how it could apply the access rules.  Lark Park, a Senate Health Committee staffer, took note and the bill as it will be considered next week has been amended to offer that flexibility.

Klein and his advocacy group seem to believe that they and only they are appropriate arbiters of stem cell policy.  The Legislature has an appropriate role to play and must meet a high threshold to make changes — any law that changes Proposition 71 that created the agency needs a 70 percent super majority.  So far, no legislator has voted against SB 1565.

One can oppose the bill without launching personal attacks and suggesting the sky is falling.  For the most part, the board members and agency’s staff have followed that policy.  But Klein insists on wearing two hats: ICOC chairman and president of his advocacy group.

The positions are incompatible. Since Klein refuses to give up the advocacy role, he must step down from his public position as head of a state agency.  Failure to do so undermines the stem cell agency’s credibility and ability to do its vital work.


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