Obama over­turns Bush’s stem cell re­search lim­its

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

In two sweep­ing moves March 9, Pres­i­dent Obama rolled back highly sym­bolic Bush-era poli­cies, sign­ing an or­der to erase re­stric­tions on tax­payer fund­ing of em­bry­onic stem cell re­search and or­der­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion to dis­re­gard Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s sign­ing state­ments, which had come to be seen as a way to cir­cum­vent the will of Congress.

Declar­ing that the stem cell is­sue had moved past Mr. Bush’s life-or-death moral­ity, Mr. Obama said he is in­stead bow­ing to a dif­fer­ent moral­ity that re­spects ma­jor­ity opin­ion and puts the ethic of help­ing the liv­ing at the top.

“When it comes to stem cell re­search, rather than fur­ther­ing dis­cov­ery, our gov­ern­ment has forced what I be­lieve is a false choice be­tween sound sci­ence and moral val­ues. In this case, I be­lieve the two are not in­con­sis­tent,” he said. “As a per­son of faith, I be­lieve we are called to care for each other and work to ease hu­man suf­fer­ing. I be­lieve we have been given the ca­pac­ity and will to pur­sue this re­search — and the hu­man­ity and con­science to do so re­spon­si­bly.”

On sign­ing state­ments — which many pres­i­dents have is­sued to in­ter­pret new laws and di­rect im­ple­men­ta­tion by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment — Mr. Obama or­dered his ad­min­is­tra­tion to check with the at­tor­ney gen­eral be­fore fol­low­ing any other pres­i­dent’s state­ments.

Mr. Bush was ac­cused of dis­re­gard­ing Congress with state­ments that said the Jus­tice Depart­ment could with­hold in­for­ma­tion from law­mak­ers about FBI searches per­tain­ing to the USA Patriot Act, cit­ing na­tional se­cu­rity, and that as com­man­der in chief he could waive a ban on tor­ture if harsh tech­niques could pre­vent ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Mr. Obama an­nounced that he would fol­low new self-im­posed rules to re­duce the num­ber of state­ments he will sign, but de­fended sign­ing state­ments as im­por­tant pres­i­den­tial tools. In ef­fect, it was only a par­tial break with the con­tentious Bush-era pol­icy.

“Such sign­ing state­ments serve a le­git­i­mate func­tion in our sys­tem, at least when based on well­founded con­sti­tu­tional ob­jec­tions,” the pres­i­dent said. “In ap­pro­pri­ately lim­ited cir­cum­stances, they rep­re­sent an ex­er­cise of the pres­i­dent’s con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion to take care that the laws be faith­fully ex­e­cuted, and they pro­mote a healthy di­a­logue be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive branch and the Congress.”

The new em­bry­onic stem cell pol­icy thrilled sci­en­tists, ethi­cists and oth­ers who were in the White House East Room to see the pres­i­dent sign the or­der. One per­son present de­scribed the event as “like March Mad­ness for sci­ence.”

Mr. Bush’s 2001 pol­icy for the first time al­lowed fed­eral fund­ing of re­search into em­bry­onic stem cells, but se­verely re­stricted it only to those lines that ex­isted when he is­sued his or­der. Mr. Bush ar­gued the life-or-death de­ci­sion had al­ready been made in those cases, so their re­search po­ten­tial shouldn’t be squan­dered.

Sci­en­tists value em­bry­onic stem cells be­cause they be­come the full panoply of hu­man cells, sug­gest­ing they may be used to dis­cover ways to re­gen­er­ate tis­sue or to help cures for de­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases. The re­search draws the sup­port of even some staunchly pro-life law­mak­ers such as Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can, who at­tended Mr. Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der sign­ing cer­e­mony.

Af­ter Mr. Bush’s or­der, some states, most notably Cal­i­for­nia, com­mit­ted hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to fund­ing em­bry­onic stem cell re­search.

But op­po­nents of Mr. Obama’s new pol­icy said the pres­i­dent is forc­ing tax­pay­ers to pay for some­thing that many of them con­sider im­moral and that so far is un­proven.

“This de­ci­sion rep­re­sents the tri­umph of lob­by­ing over logic. There is no valid rea­son for de­stroy­ing hu­man life when sci­ence is con­tin­u­ally prov­ing that the same cures and treat­ments can be achieved by us­ing other, more eth­i­cal, av­enues,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, who is a doc­tor. “Pro­vid­ing fed­eral fund­ing for the­o­ries backed by spe­cial in­ter­est groups rather than sci­en­tific fact is it­self an ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal act. To­day’s de­ci­sion will do noth­ing but bring our so­ci­ety closer to the dark­est po­ten­tials of bio­med­i­cine.”

Mr. Coburn said that since Mr. Bush’s 2001 pol­icy went into ef­fect, re­searchers have made ad­vances in many other ar­eas, but “sci­en­tists around the world have pro­duced zero ther­a­peu­tic break­throughs in the area of em­bry­onic stem cell re­search.”

Still, in over­turn­ing Mr. Bush’s pol­icy, Mr. Obama said he was re- ly­ing on a ma­jor­ity con­sen­sus in mak­ing his de­ci­sion: “Af­ter much dis­cus­sion, de­bate and re­flec­tion, the proper course has be­come clear. The ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans — from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and from all back­grounds and be­liefs — have come to a con­sen­sus that we should pur­sue this re­search, that the po­ten­tial it of­fers is great, and with proper guide­lines and strict over­sight, the perils can be avoided.”

Jonathan D. Moreno, a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cal ethics at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, was in the East Room for the an­nounce­ment and said Mr. Obama’s move showed that he is try­ing to get past de­bil­i­tat­ing old ar­gu­ments.

“What he wants to do is re­ally try to turn the page on some of th­ese cul­tural con­tro­ver­sies that have been un­con­struc­tive,” Mr. Moreno said.

He said un­like Mr. Bush’s con­trast of sci­ence or ethics, Mr. Obama fo­cused on the value of sci­ence for ethics.

“All of our moral tra­di­tions say you’re sup­posed to help peo­ple who are hurt­ing. That some­how gets lost in all this dis­cus­sion,” Mr. Moreno said. “It al­ways made me a lit­tle anx­ious to hear Pres­i­dent Bush say it’s sci­ence or ethics. That makes it sound like sci­ence is tak­ing us down the road to perdi­tion. I see sci­ence as a moral ad­ven­ture. We’re try­ing to im­prove the hu­man con­di­tion.”

MICHAEL CON­NOR/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Pres­i­dent Obama says the is­sue has moved past for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s life-or-death moral­ity.

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