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Jewish World Review
Jan. 26, 2005
/ 16 Shevat, 5765
When you have a lot of money, you can pay for a lot of things other people can't afford. Does that mean you should be able to make other people pay for things they don't want?
Last November, the people of California decided to contribute $3 billion to stem-cell research. More precisely, 6.48 million people in California decided to do that; another 4.5 million voted not to, but they lost. Since California voted, other states are moving in the same direction. The Associated Press reports officials in Illinois, Wisconsin, New York and Connecticut are promoting state funding of stem-cell research. Last week, the acting governor of New Jersey, Richard J. Codey, announced that his state would spend $150 million to "build and equip" an institute for stem-cell research, which he asked New Jersey's voters to "put their faith behind" and fund with another $230 million.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tapped Robert Klein, who led the California referendum campaign, to head his state's stem-cell program.
I spoke to Klein during the campaign. "We have to have this research," he said. "And in Washington, D.C., this research is paralyzed."
That's not exactly true. President Bush has limited embryonic stem-cell research that can be done with federal money. He has not blocked all use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research, and even the research the government won't sponsor remains legal. Researchers at Harvard, Vanderbilt and other private institutions are already spending millions on stem-cell study.
To treat denial of government funds for a particular research project as if it stopped that research entirely suggests a dangerous dependency. Much scientific progress has been the result of private initiative. Most new drug development comes from research funded by private companies. Just last year, a private plane reached space twice, inspired by a $10 million prize offered by private investors. In many cases, the only government support behind scientific progress has been the promise of a patent in order to channel private spending on a new technology to the person or company that created it. For other research, government didn't even do that much. We do not depend on the government for everything. Nor should we.
I happen to think stem-cell research is a good idea: Take an embryo that hasn't come close to consciousness and never will, harvest its stem cells, and work to save the lives of people who are desperate to live. But many Americans think that an embryo is already a person with a right to life and that to kill it is murder. Why should people who think abortion is murder be forced to pay for research that involves abortion?
Robert Klein thinks he can answer that question. "As a democracy," he told me, "we vote for public schools, and everyone contributes tax dollars to public schools. What we're doing here is really no different."
If that's true, where does it stop? California is already $53 billion in debt. This will add billions more.
And it's completely unnecessary. Many of the referendum's backers are among the richest people in America. Bill Gates has given billions to charity, but he and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar are so rich, they could pay the entire $3 billion themselves and still have $52 billion left. So why didn't they?
"I don't have those resources," Klein says, "and what we're trying to do is bring the society together." That sounds nice, until you realize that it's bringing society together by force for a cause many members of society consider absolutely immoral. Medical research isn't something, such as warfare or criminal law, that can only be handled by the government. It isn't even something, such as public education, that government has traditionally provided.
When I thought kidney research needed more money, I provided some of my own money. I didn't try to force others to give, too. The Associated Press says Klein has amassed a fortune, and in addition to Gates and Omidyar, he had movie stars behind his referendum. They have money. So, in varying quantities, do the 6.48 million people who voted yes in California; so do supporters of stem-cell research nationwide. They're free to contribute their own money to stem-cell research. Why should they get to use the power of government to force their opponents to pay for something those opponents consider murder?
Give Me a Break.
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