Obama Ends Bush Ban on Embryo Stem Cell Research

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by
The Guardian/UK

Obama Ends Bush Ban on Embryo Stem Cell Research

Obama ends Bush ban on embryo stem cell research President will end restrictions on government funding for research crucial for developing new medical treatments

by
Daniel Nasaw

Photo provided by Kyoto University shows IPS cells which can develop into cells of various body parts, such as muscle, neural tissues and cartilage. US President Barack Obama on Monday is set to wipe out another contentious aspect of his predecessor George W. Bush's legacy by removing curbs on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. (AFP/HO/Shinya Yamanaka-Kyoto University/File)

Barack Obama will overturn an important medical research policy of George Bush's
presidency on Monday, by ending restrictions on federal funding for
embryonic stem cell research which scientists consider crucial for the
development of new medical treatments.

The move was confirmed yesterday by the White House, rescinding a ban put in place by Bush in August 2001.

It
is the latest in a series of actions by the president casting aside
some of Bush's most divisive policies. Throughout his tenure Bush was
accused of substituting ideology for scientific evidence on issues such
as stem cell research, energy and birth control. In 2007 Obama, then a
senator, said Bush's obstruction of stem cell research was "deferring
the hopes of millions of Americans who do not have the time to keep
waiting for the cure that may save or extend their lives".

Overturning
the ban on funding will cheer patients, doctors and scientists, who
maintained that it was a politically motivated act that ignored science.

"I
feel vindicated after eight years of struggle, and I know it's going to
energise my research team," said Dr George Daley of the Harvard stem
cell institute and children's hospital of Boston. "Science works best
and patients are served best by having all the tools at our disposal."

Katie
Hood, CEO of the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research,
said: "Our foundation is optimistic about the work that will now
continue toward better treatments and cures for the millions of people
impacted by injury or disease."

Embryonic stem cells are prized in medical research because they can develop into any kind of tissue.

Medical
researchers hope to use the cells to find cures for conditions such as
juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and spinal
cord injuries.

But the research raises profound ethical
questions, because human embryos - typically conceived in vitro - are
destroyed so that stem cells may be harvested. Conservatives say it
creates human life only to end it. The research is allowed in Britain,
which in the years since Bush's restrictions, has become a world centre
of stem cell study.

Although US public opinion was strongly in
favour of the research, Bush yielded to his conservative backers in
2001 and banned federal funding for it except on stem cell lines that
already existed at the time. He said the work was "at the leading edge
of a series of moral hazards". Scientists questioned the promise of
those existing cell lines, and said the ban on funding for the
cultivation of new stem cells hindered research.

Obama's
executive order will re-energise social conservatives already angry
that Obama rescinded a ban on US funding for foreign aid groups that
provide or advise on abortions.

"Today's news that President
Obama will open the door to direct taxpayer funds for embryonic stem
cell research that encourages the destruction of human embryos is a
slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human
life," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research
Council.

In the years since Bush's ban, scientists have sought
ways to work with stem cells that avoid the ethical dilemmas associated
with the embryonic type.

British and Canadian scientists said
earlier this week they had found a way to reprogramme skin cells,
effectively winding back the clock on the cells until they reached an
embryonic form.

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