In a move that shocked no one, President Barack Obama reversed President George W. Bush’s executive order to ban government-funded human embryonic stem cell (ESC) research on new embryonic stem cell strains. This decision has caused many to rejoice and many to lament.
Some question the timing: lifting the stem cell research funding ban is a political win for Obama at a time when he’s losing public opinion ground on the economy. It also puts Republicans on defense — moderates and Democrats favor embryonic stem cell research, while conservatives dislike it. Moderate Republicans welcome the policy shift because they view the issue as a political loser and want it off the table.
A couple things to clarify: First, existing lines of human embryonic stem cell research continued throughout the Bush administration. Second, human embryonic stem cell research was not banned generally, nor was any other kind of stem cell research banned. The previous executive order specifically prevented government funds from being used for embryonic stem cell research. Third, human embryonic stem cell research is just a subset of stem cell research. Stem cells can be found everywhere — bone marrow, blood, fat, and skin all contain stem cells and umbilical cord blood has very pluripotent stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research is one part of this research. Every other kind of stem cell research continued to receive federal grant money. Finally, embryonic stem cell research may be history anyway because it’s unnecessary.
These clarifications are important. The press, the left, and even some on the right have purposefully misrepresented President Bush’s position about stem cells, making it seem like he hated stem cell research in particular and science generally. This was a simplistic view meant to reinforce the image of Bush as a bible-beating, anti-science zealot rather than a man sensitive to the ethical concerns of using the citizenry’s money to fund research which many voters view as morally ambiguous.