Obama's big changes in stem cell and science policies

In an East Room talk laced with criticism of President Bush’s policies, President Obama announced sharp changes in federal policies governing scientific research.

In the latest of a series of reversals of Bush-era policies, President Obama signed an Executive Order lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. “We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research,” the President said.

Full promise unknown

Before an audience that included stem cell research advocates, Mr. Obama said, “The full promise of stem cell research remains unknown and it should not be overstated.” Researchers say embryonic stem cells are master cells that can morph into any cell in the body.

“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 said. President Bush had limited taxpayer money for stem cell research to a small number of stem lines that were created before August 9, 2001. “Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values,” Obama said.

Quick criticism

The President’s move triggered quick criticism. Even before the East Room ceremony took place, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, issued a statement saying, “It is categorically wrong to fund unnecessary and immoral research that destroys human embryos. In just a few short weeks the President has made it clear he will use the office of the presidency to weaken protections for the unborn, and will do so using taxpayer dollars. The President has ordered pro-life taxpayers to foot the bill for promoting overseas abortions and for scientific research that destroys human embryos.”

Dr. Curt Civin, founding director of the University of Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, told the Associated Press, “This was already life that was going to be destroyed. The choice is throw them away or use them for research.”

Wanted: a new science strategy

In addition to the Executive Order lifting the ban on federal funding for stem cell research, the President also signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to “develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making.”

In remarks aimed at his predecessor’s policies, Obama said the goal of the new federal science strategy was, “to ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions.”

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