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Opponents of California's $3-billion plan to fund embryonic stem-cell research say that the proposal would give researchers carte blanche to rewrite well-established ethical guidelines to suit their needs.

They say the research institute planned under the initiative will be exempt from legislative supervision and, if established, will be able to make its own rules about conflicts of interest and informed consent.

Proponents are reacting angrily to the charges, saying that the proposal provides the highest possible level of accountability and will serve as a model of how science can be funded at the state level.

The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative will appear as Proposition 71 on the ballot in the elections due on 2 November. If passed, it will authorize a bond issue of nearly $3 billion over ten years to fund embryonic stem-cell research and infrastructure. It will create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to distribute the funds.

But public opinion is sharply divided on the proposition, with 45% in favour and 42% opposed. A California columnist has branded it an "audacious raid on the...