Monday, March 09, 2009


The day has finally arrived. President Obama will be keeping one of his campaign promises today by issuing an executive order which overturns the ban on using federal funds for stem cell research issued by his predecessor.

From the NY Times:

While lifting the Bush administration’s restrictions on federally financed human embryonic stem cell research, President Obama intends to avoid the thorniest question in the debate: whether taxpayer dollars should be used to experiment on embryos themselves, two senior administration officials said Sunday.

The officials, who provided details of the announcement Mr. Obama will make Monday at the White House, said the president would leave it to Congress to determine whether the long-standing legislative ban on federal financing for human embryo experiments should also be overturned.

The legislative ban referred to is the Dickey-Wicker amendment:

The ban, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, first became law in 1996, and has been renewed by Congress every year since. It specifically bans the use of tax dollars to create human embryos — a practice that is routine in private fertility clinics — or for research in which embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury.

For a time, the ban stood in the way of taxpayer-financed embryonic stem cell research, because embryos are destroyed when stem cells are extracted from them. But in August 2001, in a careful compromise, President Bush opened the door a tiny crack, by ordering that tax dollars could be used for studies on a small number of lines, or colonies, of stem cells already extracted from embryos — so long as federal researchers did not do the extraction themselves.

Pres. Obama's move is not a half-hearted one. He has no power to overturn a law passed by Congress. That repeal is up to the Congress, which, heartened by the new executive order, will hopefully deal with the issue this session. In the mean time, Mr. Obama has directed that appropriate ethical guidelines be drafted with respect to stem cell research receiving federal funding. Once those are in place, congressional supporters of this vital research will have the kind of political cover necessary to overcome those on the far right who are already screaming about the change in policy:

One Republican lawmaker, Representative Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, is calling Mr. Obama “the abortion president,” and is planning his own event on Monday to protest Mr. Obama’s new stem cell policy.

The anti-abortion crowd still claims that "most Americans" will oppose opening up stem cell research, casting the issue as using embryos as guinea pigs. Clearly Mr. Smith has difficulty in counting. Hopefully he will have that same difficulty in rebutting the arguments in favor of scientific research guided by carefully crafted ethical guidelines.

There is still work to be done, but now the arena shifts to Congress. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), an advocate for stem cell research, hopes to take the issue out of dueling executive orders by pushing a bill through Congress which codifies Pres. Obama's order. She also believes that now may be the time to overturn Dickey-Wicker and is already trying to garner support.

It's about time.



Post a Comment

<< Home