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Researchers should cover new ground

On May 21, Oregonians should vote no on Ballot Measure 11. Recent public debate over Oregon's budget crisis overlooked Senate Bill 832, an elephantine misappropriation of tobacco settlement-generated monies to Oregon Health & Science University. Ballot Measure 11, the final component of SB 832, will determine just how much public money will be funneled into biomedical research.

Signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber last August, SB 832 is intended to help Oregon 'catch the coming biotechnology wave.' It allows OHSU to use state-backed bonds to expand and build new biomedical research facilities and recruit researchers.

In a time of budgetary crisis, the act ties up state funds from the 1998 tobacco master settlement agreement in a program that will ramp up animal experimentation, a stinging irony given that Big Tobacco's decades-long denial of tobacco's detrimental effects on human health was facilitated by inconclusive animal experiments.

Ballot Measure 11 would amend the state constitution specifically to allow OHSU to exploit higher-revenue-producing general obligation bonds. If passed, the measure would net OHSU $200 million in bond-generated revenue for expanding biomedical research programs.

Even if the measure fails, SB 832 lets OHSU use revenue bonds, which would yield the institution $165 million. If OHSU is to use public funds to increase its animal experimentation, then the lesser dollar amount is the lesser of two evils.

Both OHSU and its subsidiary, the Oregon Regional Primate Center, have a history of squandering research grants that should prompt legislative restraint, not blank checks.

Having siphoned off more than $50 million in federal research funding in the past three years alone, the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center has every incentive to overstate its accomplishments. Bearing that in mind, this tidbit of back-patting published on the center's Web site should profoundly trouble Oregonians: '(We) made progress in identifying a gene involved in the growth of lung cancer.' This underwhelming advance in the three-decade-old 'war on cancer' typifies the failure of smoking and lung cancer experiments involving animals.

By the 1930s, the link between smoking and cancer had been clearly established by comparative human population studies and autopsies of deceased smokers. Nonetheless, the tobacco industry for decades dodged liability for its deadly products, chiefly by pointing to inconclusive and contradictory tobacco experiments on animals.

History aside, it is as conclusively settled today that smoking harms human health as is the proposition that the Earth is round.

Ethical research with a demonstrable link to improving human health is a noble pursuit worth financing, even during economic hard times. But as Oregon feels a tightening recession, state taxpayers should vote no on Ballot Measure 11 to register their disappointment with this misappropriation of tobacco settlement money to expand the practice of fruitless, horrific experiments on animals.

Peter A. Brandt is a student at Lewis & Clark College's Northwestern School of Law. Jerry W. Vlasak, a trauma surgeon in Southern California, is a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org).