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California Proposition 14 is about pikuach nefesh — here’s why

Only two decades ago, stem cell therapy was highly regulated in the United States and other countries — but it was well underway in Hadassah Hospital’s labs in Jerusalem. Never would we have imagined that the US expansion of one of the key clinical trials conducted in our labs in Israel would be later funded by California’s Stem Cell Institute.

In 2004, California had the foresight to advance this critical area of research, and Hadassah advocates played a major role in the passing of an unprecedented statewide ballot initiative that authorized state funding for stem cell research. This marked the passage of Proposition 71 in 2004.

Fast forward to today. Hadassah’s commitment to stem cell research led the Californians for Stem Cell, Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative effort in 2020 to reach out for help with their grassroots effort to qualify the latest stem cell funding initiative for the November ballot. It qualified with your help, and I hope that in a few short weeks we’ll be celebrating the passage of Proposition 14, which will provide $5.5 billion to help accelerate development of treatments and cures for life-threatening diseases and conditions.

The power of stem cells is mind-blowing: We are able to use these cells to replace damaged or diseased tissue, and in this way, treatments or cures for diseases like age-related macular degeneration, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes could be a reality in the foreseeable future.

I come to this subject from a place of personal sorrow.

I watched my father-in-law, Irv, suffer for 12 and a half years with ALS, a man I loved as if he were my own father. He fought and fought, he made every minute of his battle meaningful, soaking as much life as he could, until he couldn’t. Irv is the reason why I became involved in Hadassah — because of their cutting-edge medical research — and he is the reason that I’m writing to you now.

Today, Hadassah is doing incredible things in stem cell research, and the stunning results of their clinical trials have riveted the worldwide medical community.

Of course, the research most personal to me is the ALS research. Hadassah researchers conducted the world’s first clinical trial using the patient’s own bone marrow stem cells to treat ALS. Pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life, is the most important obligation in Judaism, and the one that drives Hadassah. With the potential of stem research, we have the ability to save millions of lives throughout the world.

And, with the promise of stem cells, we can accelerate the development of treatments and cures for life-threatening diseases and conditions that affect someone in nearly half of all California families.

I believe that stem cell research is going to allow our children to look at the major diseases that plague our modern world the way we now view polio.That potential will not reveal itself on its own, nor did it with polio. It took decades of research and funding for a polio vaccine to be fully developed, tested and made available widely.

There are no medical miracles. Medical advancement happens because of research. Research takes will, knowledge, chutzpah and, of course, money. The path to get a therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration can take 12 to 15 years, requires thousands of patients for clinical trials and costs billions of dollars. — from life-saving vaccines, to pioneering cancer treatments, to the sequencing of the human genome.w When research stalls for lack of funding, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored.

The passage of Proposition 14 would help to overcome those hurdles and create a streamlined process that delivers much-needed treatments to patients who have few options. How amazing would it be to be part of making medical history. I am so proud to be a member of Hadassah, which is not only leading the way in stem cell research but also doing its research in service to humanity. Together, we can make medical discoveries happen and continue to set the pace for the worldwide medical community.

I wish that my father-in-law was here to give you his final thumbs up.

Stacey Dorenfeld is the National State Advocacy Co-Chair and the Hadassah Southern California Advocacy Chair.

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