President Barack Obama on Monday ended an eight-year ban on new embryonic stem cell research, dismantling a signature policy of the Bush administration that he said was driven by ideology and not science.
Obama signed an executive order restoring funding for research on all lines of available stem cells, saying the work holds the promise to understand and “possibly cure” some of the world’s most devastating illnesses.
“But that potential will not reveal itself on its own. Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident,” Obama said at the White House, where he was joined by several scientists and people in wheelchairs.
While acknowledging the issue of stem cell research remains highly contentious in the United States — with particularly fierce opposition from Christian conservatives — Obama said the government’s earlier limits on research had forced America into making “a false choice between sound science and moral values.”
The executive order reverses a decision made by President George W. Bush that restricted federal research funding to only stem cell lines that existed before Aug. 9, 2001.
At the time, Bush characterized the decision as a pro-life policy because it blocked the use of taxpayer money for the destruction of embryos — mostly those unused by fertility clinics — for research.
“The administration’s policy change does not answer the central question: do human embryos, which are clearly alive, constitute a life or mere property?” asked Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who has led opposition in Congress to stem cell research.
“If an embryo is a life, and I believe strongly that it is life, then no government has the right to sanction their destruction for research purposes. If embryos are property, then they may be disposed of as their owner chooses,” Brownback said. “I choose life and oppose the administration’s action.”
Obama’s move opens the door for researchers to access up to $10 billion U.S. that was included in the recent economic stimulus package for biomedical research.