Washington: President Barack Obama plans to lift his predecessor’s restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research on Monday, the latest reversal of controversial policies implemented by the Bush administration.
The long-promised move, coming nearly two months into his term, will allow a rush of research aimed at better treatment, if not cures, for ailments from diabetes to paralysis research that crosses partisan lines, backed by such notables as Nancy Reagan and the late actor Christopher Reeve. But it stirs intense controversy over whether government crosses a moral line with such research.
Obama also planned to make a broad declaration that science, not political ideology, would guide his administration.
“I would simply say this memorandum is not concerned solely, or even specifically, with stem cell research,” said Harold Varmus, chairman of the White House’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology and a Nobel Prize-winning biologist. He said it would address how the government uses science and who is advising officials across federal agencies.
In short, Obama plans to use an executive order and a memo to signal his commitment to refocus the government’s priorities.
The proposed changes, which Obama planned to sign around noon Monday, do not fund creation of new lines, nor specify which existing lines can be used. They mean that scientists, who until now have had to rely on private donations to work with these newer stem cell lines, can apply for government money for the research, just like they do for studies of gene therapy or other treatment approaches.
At the same event, the president planned to announce safeguards through the National Institutes of Health so science is protected from political interference.
Embryonic stem cells are master cells that can morph into any cell of the body. Scientists hope to harness them so they can create replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases such as new insulin-producing cells for diabetics, cells that could help those with Parkinson’s disease or maybe even Alzheimer’s, or new nerve connections to restore movement after spinal injury.
The research is controversial because days-old embryos must be destroyed to obtain the cells. They typically are culled from fertility-clinic leftovers otherwise destined to be thrown away. President George W. Bush banned their use; he and his supporters said they were defending human life.
“I believe it is unethical to use human life, even young embryonic life, to advance science,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative organization that opposes the move.
“While such research is unfortunately legal, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for experiments that require the destruction of human life,” said Perkins. “I urge President Obama to direct funding not only to the best science, but also to the surest common ground research using adult stem cells and stem cells created by reprogramming.”