Related News

Home » World

Obama decision on stem cells cheers scientists

IN a clear rebuke to his White House predecessor, President Barack Obama declared he will not allow politics to taint science and signed an executive order to allow funding of broader research into stem cells.

"Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama declared yesterday as he signed documents changing US science policy and removing what some researchers have said were shackles on their work.

In particularly pointed remarks, Obama said he would end "manipulation or coercion" of the scientific community when its findings are "inconvenient."

Scientists hope to use embryonic stem cells to regenerate diseased cells in those suffering a variety of fatal or debilitating diseases. Former President George W. Bush had limited the use of taxpayer money allowed for the research, saying it required the destruction of embryos and is therefore morally wrong.

Reversing course in a White House ceremony, Obama coupled the stem cell directive with a presidential memorandum to promote what he called "the restoration of scientific integrity to government decision-making."

Bush ran afoul of the scientific community by often dismissing its findings on issues like global warming and stem cell research because they contradicted his conservative political and moral positions.

Obama said that practice was over.

"Promoting science isn't just about providing resources - it's also about protecting free and open inquiry," he said. "It's about letting scientists like those who are here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient.

"It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda - and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

The president said his decision to allow federal funding of far broader stem cell research would open the road for promising, but still long-range research.

"Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident," he said before signing the order. "They result from painstaking and costly research from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit and from a government willing to support that work."

Researchers said the new president's message was clear: Science, which once propelled men to the moon, again matters in American life. Opponents saw it differently: a defeat for morality in the most basic questions of life and death.

Opponents saw it differently: a defeat for morality in the most basic questions of life and death.

"The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said.

On another issue relating to the Bush administration, Obama ordered a review of his predecessor's use of presidential signing statements, which often told government officials how to implement laws passed by Congress.

Gibbs said Obama has sent memos to federal agencies directing them to review Bush's signing statements, which he often used to direct officials to ignore parts of laws he thought were incorrect or restricted his constitutional powers.

Bush used his statements to circumvent Congress' ban on torture and prohibitions against using federal tax dollars to build a permanent military base in Iraq.

Gibbs said presidents have used such statements throughout history to note potential problems and Obama planned to continue that practice. But, Gibbs said, Obama would not use signing statements to disregard overall Congressional intent.

In a crowded East Room, there were more scientists in the White House for the signing of the stem cell order than Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had seen in his 30 years in Washington. "More happy scientists than I've seen," he added.

The stem cell order could set in motion a significant push on research to find better treatment for ailments from diabetes to paralysis. Proponents such as former first lady Nancy Reagan and the late actor Christopher Reeve had called for ending restrictions on research spending.

Obama called on Congress to provide the needed funding even as he asserted the order would never allow human cloning.

"We will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction," he said. "It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society."

Bush had limited the use of taxpayer money to research using 21 stem cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001, the day he announced his decision. While the Obama order reverses that, it does not address an earlier legislative ban that remains in place precluding any federal money to researchers who develop stem cell lines by destroying embryos.

That legislation, however, does not prevent federal funds going to research on stem cell lines that were produced by researchers who did their work without federal aid. Obama's order, thus, would allow federal funding of research on the hundreds of new lines created - through private funding - since the Bush imposed ban.

Bush and his supporters had said they were defending human life. Days-old embryos - typically from fertility clinics and destined for destruction - are destroyed for the stem cells.

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.

But don't expect stem cell cures or treatments anytime soon. One company this summer will begin the world's first study of a treatment using human embryonic stem cells, in people who recently suffered spinal cord injuries.

Research institutions on Monday were gearing up to ask for more freely flowing federal money, and the National Institutes of Health was creating guidelines on how to hand it out and include ethical constraints. It will be months before the stem cell money flows.

Scientists focused on a new sense of freedom.

"I think patients everywhere will be cheering us on, imploring us to work faster, harder and with all of our ability to find new treatments," said Harvard Stem Cell Institute co-director Doug Melton, father of two children with Type I diabetes who could possibly be treated with stem cells. "On a personal level, it is an enormous relief and a time for celebration. ... Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government."

Opponents framed their opposition mostly, but not exclusively, on moral grounds and the scientifically contested claims that adult stem cells work just as well.

Said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America: "President Obama's order places the worst kind of politics above ethics. Politics driven by hype makes overblown promises, fuels the desperation of the suffering, and financially benefits those seeking to strip morality from science. It is politics at its worst."

In Congress, Reps. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, and Mike Castle, a Delaware Republican, said they would seek a quick vote on legislation to codify Obama's order.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend