Spitzer Unveils $1 Billion Stem Cell Proposal
By Bruce Lambert, The New York Times, April 25, 2006
Staking a position on a politically sensitive issue, Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor, promised at a press conference on Wednesday that his administration would push for a $1 billion bond to pay for stem cell and other medical research.
Mr. Spitzer, the state's attorney general, said the money for research on stem cells and other promising treatments would be the ''centerpiece'' of the state's health care policy if he were elected.
In making the announcement at a medical research center on Long Island, Mr. Spitzer ventured onto the home turf of his rival, Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, a fellow Democrat and a politically moderate Roman Catholic who has differed with him on some social issues, including same-sex marriage. Mr. Suozzi opposes such marriage.
Some Catholics oppose stem cell research as a desecration of human life because it uses surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization. On Wednesday, calls to Mr. Suozzi's campaign office and his county office seeking his position on the matter were not returned.
Supporters of the research say it could save lives. Mr. Spitzer said New York was falling behind most other states in stem cell research, especially after the Bush administration's ban on most such projects.
''If Washington is going to fail us, states must step into the breach,'' he said. Of the national Republican administration, he said, ''Time and time again it has put politics over science.''
Mr. Spitzer leads the Democrats in the race for governor and also leads polls pitting him against potential Republican rivals.
His choice for lieutenant governor, State Senator David A. Paterson, developed the plan and appeared with Mr. Spitzer to discuss it. Mr. Spitzer said that Mr. Paterson would be his point man on the program.
The two spoke at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, a research arm of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and an example of the kind of scientific organization that Mr. Spitzer said would get research funds.
Though Mr. Spitzer has accused Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, of excessive spending and debt, he said medical research funds would be ''dollars very well spent.'' Noting that the bond issue would be subject to a statewide voter referendum, he said, ''The vast majority of New Yorkers support this.''
Researchers at the institute said that stem cell research holds promise for treatment of a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and paralysis.
The chief medical officer at North Shore-Long Island Jewish, Dr. Jon R. Cohen, predicted that stem cell research would revolutionize medicine ''a thousandfold'' more than the discovery of antibiotics did and would eventually help perhaps 70 percent of people suffering from fatal illnesses in New York State. But the scientists and the politicians cautioned against expecting instant cures and panaceas. ''This is not for tomorrow,'' said Dr. David Eidelberg, who specializes in brain research at Feinstein. ''It's a long-term investment.''
Senator Paterson said, ''We don't want to raise hopes that can't be fulfilled.'' He did predict that the research would be a catalyst ''for a lot of good.''
Another speaker was Brooke Ellison, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a childhood traffic accident. She went on to graduate from Harvard and, with her mother, wrote the autobiography ''Miracles Happen,'' which was made into a movie directed by Christopher Reeve.
Ms. Ellison, now a Democratic candidate for State Senate in Suffolk County, said refusing to finance stem cell research would be ''robbing people of their hope.''
Besides the bond issue, the Spitzer-Paterson plan includes banning the cloning of human beings, creating a bioethics review board and appointing a review panel to prevent duplication of stem cell research projects.
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