By Don C. Reed

The lawbooks are filled with active malfeasance, crimes and penalties for doing bad. But there are very few punishments for avoiding doing good.  If a billionaire drives past a homeless person, and turns away, too bored or busy to share a buck, he/she will not get in trouble, however gross and disgusting such selfishness may be.

There does exist a “rescue required” law, (1) but it is limited. Basically, if you set up a danger, like digging a hole in the street and somebody falls into it, you have to pull them out. Other than that, not much.

But if there was a law requiring good actions, I know someone who might be found guilty, at least on a misdemeanor level…

Our daughter Desiree had given Gloria and me a lovely anniversary present: tickets to the opera, which neither of us had done before.  So, we went to San Francisco and saw HANSEL AND GRETEL, an opera from 1897, written by Engelbert Humperdink, (not the modern singer) a friend of Richard Wagner.

The production was elaborate, though a little strange—Hansel was played by a woman, the wicked witch by a man—but there was one beautiful song I remembered from my childhood, “When at night I go to sleep, fourteen angels watch do keep…”

Do yourself a favor and listen to Charlotte Church sing this song: like a voice from Heaven. (2)

But the part of the trip that embarrassed me? That took place on the way home.

We were on BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, California’s pioneering bullet train. There had been a Raiders game that day, and the train car was jam-packed with enthusiastic fans.

In front of us, driving a hand-powered wheelchair, was a middle-aged African American. He was muscular, wore a black skullcap, and looked a little angry. But he could make that chair do tricks, and he did, zipping back and forth in the two-seat-wide handicap zone.

Naturally, I wanted to tell him about the great strides the California stem cell program had made in the fight against paralysis.

I would mention sickle cell anemia, which overwhelmingly affects African Americans, and how it may be cured or alleviated by a therapy CIRM helped develop; a combination stem cell/gene therapy procedure which had saved 50 little children’s lives; all of whom had been diagnosed with a previously incurable disease, SCID, Severe Combined Immune Disorder. (3)

In my mind’s eye, we had a short, glorious discussion about the California stem cell program, and why it should be renewed.

Unfortunately, it did not happen.

I imagined the situation going wrong, and the crowd turning on me—“Why you picking on a man in a chair?!”

I knew better than to make such assumptions.  Like the old saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me!”

Once, in the middle of the night, my son fell from his wheelchair and called me on his cell phone. I could not pick him up by myself. So, I ran outside and looked for someone—anyone! —to help. A small group of young black men appeared in the distance—a gang? I ran to them, told them what had happened, and they came and helped me.

They would not even let me help. “We got this, Pops,” they said, and lifted Roman carefully back into his chair.

But today, I did nothing. I just sat in my seat, in the Senior Citizen section, and studied my shoes.

At the stop before mine, the man in the chair did a wheelie and got off. The opportunity for us to talk was lost, gone forever.

This is exactly what we must NOT do, if we are to win, in the fight to renew California’s stem cell program. We need to go beyond our comfort level, to speak up every chance we get, to spark discussion and gain friends. (If they actively argue, that is different. If their minds are already made up, just smile and walk away, and talk to somebody else—rally the folks who already agree, persuade the undecided people, help them to make their minds up).

Maybe the man in the chair was in no mood to be talked to? Perhaps. But I could have risked a sentence or two to find out.

What if that man goes to the polls and sees “The California Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020” on the ballot– and does not vote for it? Or just stays home and does not vote at all?

I could have given him a spectacular reason to take part.

Later on, I asked Roman what he thought.  He said:

“Of course you should have talked to him! You could have said, ‘My son is in a chair, can I talk to you for a minute?’  As long as the tone of your voice is polite, people will usually have a listen”.

Question: have you talked with (or emailed) someone today, about the importance of renewing the California stem cell program?

If not, would you consider doing so? It might be very helpful. Granted, we won’t be voting on it for a year, but seeds need planting.

Briefly, the California stem cell program has been involved in more than 1,000 research projects, 75 clinical trials, and 2,500 peer-edited and published scientific discoveries. It has saved the lives of 50 children diagnosed with the “Bubble Baby” disease, who are now healthy because of research funded by our state’s program. It has restored upper body function to newly-paralyzed patients, and given a measure of sight to a previously blind mother, allowing her to see her children for the first time.

For in-depth information, go to, where I work, or check out the program itself. (4)

AND—if you would like to help right now, here is something easy but vital.

ONE STEP ENDORSEMENT—click on the following link.

It will ask you to sign an endorsement form, very easy. And we need it, as one of the must-do steps to getting on the ballot. Also, do you belong to any groups, large or small? If so, we need their endorsements as well. Can you help with that?

For more information, write to me at

And every opportunity you get– SPEAK UP FOR CIRM!

Thank you, very much.

Don C. Reed is vice President, Public Policy, Americans for Cures Foundation. He is the author of numerous books, including “CALIFORNIA CURES”, from World Scientific, the publisher of the late Stephen Hawking. (5)


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