Obama Reverses Course, Lifts Stem Cell Ban

In what has been interpreted as a direct rebuke of former President George W. Bush, President Obama said today that his administration would make "scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

The president signed an executive order ending an 8½-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, paving the way for a significant amount of federal funds to flow to science.

"At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated," Obama said this morning before signing the order. "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."

The president's speech was equal parts hope for the new research and support for the scientists involved in such work.

"Today, with the executive order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research," Obama said. "We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield."

White House officials have said that the president's order will give the National Institutes of Health 120 days to develop ethical guidelines for the research.

The NIH said in a briefing today that they are currently looking for ways to streamline the research process and determine how quickly grant money can be made available. While most grant processes can take as long as nine months, which would delay funds reaching researchers for up to a full year, the NIH has indicated it will try to expedite the grant process to get money from the stimulus out quickly.

"Encompassed in [the executive order] will also be the requirements around guidelines that will be drafted by the NIH [National Institutes of Health] as they ... work with others around the country to make sure we're handling the issue responsibly," said Melody Barnes, the director of the president's Domestic Policy Council.

The president also signed a memorandum that Barnes says will "restore scientific integrity in government decision making." It will help ensure public policy is "guided by sound scientific advice," she said.

The memorandum covers all scientific research, including such areas as energy and climate change. The Bush administration was often accused of allowing politics to color its scientific decisions, something the administration denied.

Actor Michael J. Fox, a longtime advocate for embryonic stem cell research, expressed his enthusiasm for the president's plan and commended Obama for "recognizing the inherent value of research freedom and creating an environment in which it can flourish."

"Today is a new day. I'm thrilled to see President Obama has honored his commitment to get politics out of science," Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, told "Good Morning America." "The last few years have been incredibly frustrating for patients and researchers who believe that embryonic stem cell research has the potential to bring better treatment."

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