President Barack Obama on Monday reversed the Bush administration’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, saying scientists must be allowed to do their work backed by federal dollars because “medical miracles do not happen simply by accident.”
“At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated,” Obama said Monday. “But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions.”
Obama lifted the eight year old limits on research put in place by President George W. Bush, who said no federal funding could be used for research on new stem cell lines, but only those that existed in 2001.
Obama’s order would expand the use of federal funding dramatically – allowing the research to go forward on all stem cells available – but also drew fire on religious and ethical grounds, particularly from anti-abortion activists. The research is controversial because the stem cells are harvested from embroyos that must be destroyed in the process.
For Obama it was the fulfillment of a campaign promise – and also a way to mark a sharp break with Bush on this issue, and more broadly on the question of using scientific analysis to make government decisions. Obama also signed a separate order science should be walled off from political interference in his administration, officials said.
Obama said, “In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.”
On stem cells, Obama directed the National Institutes of Health to set new research guidelines within 120 days.
Already Republicans have criticized the move. Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said the focus on stem cell research was a distraction from the economy.
"Frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs," he said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "We don't want that. ... And certainly that is something that we ought to be talking about, but let's take care of business first. People are out of jobs."
Obama was a frequent critic of former President George W. Bush’s 2001 executive order, which said federal dollars could be spent for research only on stem cell lines created before Aug. 9, 2001. On the campaign trail, Obama accused the Bush administration of allowing political ideology to interfere with scientific decisions.
But supporters of stem-cell research say the cells hold the promise of cures for Parkinson’s disease, spinal injuries and other afflictions. That’s because embryonic stem-cells can transform into any cell in the body—making them a potentially powerful tool in the hands of scientists.
Shortly before the inauguration, Obama hinted that he might not sign an executive order to reverse Bush’s move, saying he was interested in trying to get the change made through a bipartisan effort in Congress.
Monday's announcement means he supplanted Bush’s executive order with one of his own—a move that will please many of Obama’s supporters who were pushing him to make the change.
"I feel vindicated after eight years of struggle, and I know it's going to energize my research team," said Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Children's Hospital of Boston, a leading stem cell researcher told the Associated Press.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said Obama’s orer amounts to “green-lighting funding for experiments that encourage human embryo destruction. Today’s news . . . is a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life.”