Calif. Fronts Stem Cell Debate

Carousel - Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., left, answers questions on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010, after a news conference to discuss the fiscal freeze act of 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
California is the new frontline in the national debate over the use of discarded human embryos for stem cell research .

Supporters there today succeeded in getting a measure on the November ballot that would provide billions of dollars in state funding. But the implications go far beyond California, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Katie Zucker seems to have it all. She's a champion rider and an A-student with loving parents, but Katie has type 1 diabetes and a multitude of grim prospects.

"There's loss of eyesight, amputated limbs, kidney failure, the list goes on," she says.

Now Katie has a new worry. Her hope for a disease-free future -- embryonic stem cell research -- is weighted down in controversy.

"Scientists have really told me that they could find a cure," says Zucker.

Calling the use of stem cells from human embryos an "ethical minefield," President George W. Bush set strict limits on research.

That spurred Katie's parents, Hollywood director Jerry Zucker and his producer wife Janet, to fulfill a pledge they'd made to Katie.

"We promise you we'll do everything in our power to bring a cure for you," Janet Zucker tells her daughter.

Believing Washington is too slow to act, the Zuckers are spearheading the initiative to have California put up $3 billion in state funds for stem cell research — far more than the federal government spends, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Backers say it will make California a Mecca for revolutionary research that already has helped a paralyzed lab rat to walk and promises cures for heart disease, MS, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's too.

With Ronald Reagan suffering Alzheimer's, Nancy Reagan recently spoke out in support of the legislation.

"I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this," the former first lady said.

But a wide network of Christian and anti-abortion groups truly believes stopping stem cell research is a moral imperative.

"Church teaching is that we value life from conception to natural death. That includes embryos. We oppose the killing for their parts," says Carol Hogan of the Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Right now, clinics often discard the embryos, byproducts of in-vitro fertilization.

"Should we be throwing them out as medical waste or should we be using them to create cures? For our family that isn't a difficult decision," says Katie's father Jerry Zucker.

But the heated stem cell debate leaves California voters with no easy answers.