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Another Bill to Reform the California Stem Cell Research Program

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on March 4th, 2008

Sacramento, the capital of California

For the fourth year in a row, the Democratic chair of the California Senate Health Committee, currently Sheila Kuehl, and her Republican colleague, George Runner, have introduced a bill to address some of the flaws in the California stem cell research program, but none have yet been enacted into law. Judging by the relatively mild reaction this time from the leadership of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the latest may stand a chance of passage. That's saying a lot, since the proposition that created the CIRM was written to shield it from legislative oversight: It requires a 70% supermajority in both houses of the Legislature and the governor's signature for any modifications.

The bulk of the current reform bill, SB 1565, addresses intellectual property, requiring that grantees and licensees submit a plan for affordable access to any medical treatments that are developed out of the publicly-funded research. But the long-term impact of the Kuehl-Runner bill would likely derive from the briefer second section, which calls on the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy (a.k.a. the Little Hoover Commission) to research and issue a report on how the structure of CIRM's governing board "could better ensure public accountability and reduce conflicts of interest."

The Hoover Commission has a good reputation in tackling just this kind of issue. Given that the CIRM's inherently-conflicted board is dominated by representatives of the very institutions vying for a big slice of the public funding pie, the Commission could recommend some significant changes, providing political cover for the Legislature to take real action.

But we won't know until the report is issued next year. In the meantime, There's no shortage of CIRM-related improvements that need to be made in the areas of good government and public interest. Some examples: requiring working group members to publicly disclose their potential conflicts of interest, bringing the CIRM into the normal folds of state governance and accountability, and removing the 70% supermajority requirement for amendment.

But having a neutral body examine the structure of the CIRM's governing board seems like a good place to start. The Commission's report is due out next year.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Toles on Meat Recall

Posted by Osagie Obasogie on March 3rd, 2008

As a follow up to my last post on the recent meat recall and the wisdom of eating meat from cloned animals before we know the health effects, here's an editorial cartoon by  Tom Toles that provides another interesting perspective on the recall.

Sex selection: Consumer right or violence against women?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on February 27th, 2008

Banner produced by the Centre for Social Research, a women's rights group in New Delhi.

Is the main problem with sex selection that do-it-yourself kits for testing fetal sex aren't as accurate as their makers claim?

From this point of view, the issue is one of consumer choice and rights. That's how it's portrayed in a recent Los Angeles Times article about a federal lawsuit filed by more than 100 women against one of the several makers of such sex selection tests.

Or is sex selection a pressing social issue? That's how it's understood in much of the world. At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has just announced that opposition to sex selection - which he describes as denying "countless" women "the right even to exist" - is part of a new 15-year UN campaign to end violence against women.

The UN has been raising alarms about sex selection since 1995. In a short video called Girls Gone Missing, the UN Population Fund says it "undermin[es] demographic balance and the human rights of women and girls" and explores its "long-term negative consequences for social, economic and gender parity."

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

The Religious Right: Pronatalist? Only if you are white.

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on February 26th, 2008

The American religious right's particular advocacy of pro-life, pro-family, and pro-children leads it to oppose real equality. How this plays out for women is often clear: They should forgo a career to raise children while relinquishing control of their bodies. But the stunning cover story in the latest issue of The Nationreveals the racist implications of these positions. Perhaps feeling their domestic influence wane, Christian conservatives are looking abroad, warning that Europe faces the prospect of a "demographic winter" due to declining fertility among native (i.e. white) Europeans and higher rates among immigrants, primarily Muslims from the Middle East and north Africa.

This is not a fringe movement. Groups dedicated to heading off this "end of European civilization [that] can be counted in years" have forged an alliance among evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and particularly Mormons, and have made alliances with the big shots: the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, and even former Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. This coalition taps into not just reactionary religiosity but also fear of terrorism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, and opposition to immigration, both moderate and explicitly xenophobic.

In case the racial message wasn't clear enough (winter is, of course, the season of darkness), anecdotes such as this one highlight it:

At the national level, in 2004 [conservative] Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered a "baby bonus" of about $1,000 to parents who had a second child.... The racial preferences behind Berlusconi's "baby bonus" came into embarrassing relief when immigrant parents were accidentally sent checks for their offspring and then asked to return the money: the Italian government hadn't meant to promote those births.

Of course, calls for people of certain races to have more children because others are having too many isn't just racist - it is eugenic. That it seeps from the political right should come as no surprise to those who have a basic understanding of twentieth century European history. But it may come as a surprise to those who have bought into the use of anti-eugenic rhetoric from the right wing, which sometimes tries to smear abortion rights with the historical association between early abortion advocates and eugenics movements. Ironically, that rhetorical has been used by some of the very organizations that now back higher fertility among whites to prevent a dark "demographic winter."

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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