One Father's Choice
But Klein thinks he can help future generations by promoting stem cell research, one of this year's political hot-button issues, which has taken center stage since the death on Oct. 10 of paralyzed actor and stem cell advocate Christopher Reeve. In California, Klein has sold buildings to raise more than $2 million to help fund Proposition 71, an upcoming ballot initiative that would create a $3 billion fund to finance a massive stem cell research project. "We have to invest money," says Klein, whose effort has won the support of Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Michael J. Fox (see page 110) and an endorsement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We have to innovate."
Invisible to the naked eye, stem cells loom large because of the huge potential many scientists believe they hold in the search for cures to deadly diseases. But many in California and elsewhere are vehemently opposed to expanding research using a type of stem cell harvested from human embryos (most often those left over after fertility treatments) in a process that destroys the embryo itself. "Killing human life is never justified, even when the intent is to benefit other humans," says the California Catholic Conference in a statement. (Inspired by similar reservations, three years ago President Bush said the government would spend $250 million for research but limit it to colonies of embryonic stem cells that had already been harvested and other stem cells found elsewhere in the body.) Critics in California are also outraged by Prop. 71's price tag—which rises to $6 billion over the years—and the lack of public oversight they say the initiative would permit when it comes to distributing money from the massive project to California scientists. "It's a scam of a magnitude that we've seldom seen," says Wayne Johnson, a GOP consultant leading the fight to defeat Prop. 71. Embryonic stem cell research already under way, he adds, has so far yielded "nothing, zero" in the way of cures.
But that, says Klein, 59, is because the hard work has only just begun. "We can be a world power in this area," he says. Before his son was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, Klein, who studied law at Stanford before moving into California real estate in the '70s, was more interested in business than science. Jordan's illness changed that. "You feel you want the disease instead of your child having it," he says. Originally interested in diabetes research, Klein began to learn about stem cells at medical conferences he attended here and abroad. In '03, with Hollywood producer Douglas Wick and director Jerry Zucker (both of whom have a child with diabetes) and support from Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Paul Berg, Klein decided to devote himself to the task of gathering a million signatures to get his proposition on the ballot. (His ex-wife Connie, a real estate broker, is on the Prop. 71 board.) "I was compelled," says Klein. "And that meant going from a $500,000 donation to a $1 million donation to a $2 million donation and more. Halfa commitment doesn't make any sense."
Klein's efforts now depend on a commitment from more than half of California's voters. According to an Oct. 10 poll, Prop. 71 had the backing of 46 percent of respondents, with opposition at a solid 39 percent. Clearly the tiny cells hold both promise—and the power to divide. "We're balancing protection of potential future life against research that may help and cure diseases that affect people today," says University of Washington law professor Anna Mastroianni, who has studied the issue. "There is simply no consensus on that."
By Kyle Smith. Lyndon Stambler and Lorenzo Benet in Los Angeles and Mark Dagostino in New York City
On Newsstands Now
- Brad's Devotion: The Inside Story
- Oklahoma Tornado: Heroic Rescues
- Michael Douglas on Catherine's Health
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine