Yesterday's removal of restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research by President Obama was both big and welcome news, and not just because the restrictions were unpopular and unduly restrictive. Obama also called for "strict" federal oversight of stem cell research:
We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. The President also unequivocally condemned human reproductive cloning, both for safety and social reasons:
And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.
Furthermore, the President's rhetoric was cautious, in sharp contrast to the boosters of human embryonic stem cell research who imply that cures are just around the corner:
[S]cientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions.... (emphasis mine)But if we pursue this research, maybe one day -- maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children's lifetime -- but maybe one day, others [will be cured].
Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No President can promise that.
And he emphasized the need to balance the potential benefits and costs:
I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted.
However, the devilish details remain to be determined. The President’s executive order does not say which stem cell research will be eligible for federal funding. Instead, it merely revokes Bush's policies and calls on the National Institutes of Health to develop guidelines "consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations" within 120 days.
In contrast, Congressional bills to overturn Bush's restrictions were clearly limited to lines derived from embryos not needed by fertility clinics and which had proper informed consent. Considering Obama's language both during and after his presidential campaign, we hope the NIH will stake out a similar position.
Posted in Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts, Reproductive Cloning, Stem Cell Research, US Federal
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