Obama to Overturn Stem-Cell Policy

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 9, 2009

(by Tom LoBianco, WashingtonTimes.com) – Although President Obama plans … to lift limits on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research [today] and set broad scientific guidelines across all federal agencies, the battle over the contentious research is likely to continue, senior White House aides said Sunday.

“At the same time that we recognize there is a strong back-and-forth here, a broad swath of the American public supports stem-cell research,” said Melody Barnes, director of Mr. Obama’s Domestic Policy Council. “There are people of good faith on both sides of the issue.”

The executive order on stem-cell research would not dictate what types of stem cells may be used (embryonic or adult) or where embryos would be obtained, deferring instead to the National Institutes of Health to draw up the specifics. NIH would have 120 days to draft revised guidelines.

Harold Varmus, co-chairman of the White House Council on Science and Technology, said that many of the old debates surrounding the issue are likely to play out again as NIH drafts the rules for implementation.

“Those debates have occurred in other venues; we’ll have the benefit of those earlier deliberations,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s executive order will lift funding limits that President Bush set in August 2001 over moral objections to the destruction of embryonic human life. Mr. Bush banned federal funding of the research for all but a few lines of embryonic stem cells, those already in existence in 2001, about which Mr. Bush said at the time, “The life-and-death decision has already been made.”

Supporters of [embryonic] stem-cell research say the versatile [embryonic] cells have the theoretical potential to cure chronic and degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but have been stymied by limits on federal funding.

Opponents of stem-cell research denounce the research as a form of murder: The process requires a human embryo, often a cloned one, and destroys it to extract its cells. They also note that adult stem cells have a better record of producing practical medical treatments and that recent scientific advances allow adult cells to be manipulated into having the protean quality of turning into any form of tissue – the feature embryonic stem cells have naturally that makes the latter so attractive.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, called Mr. Obama’s plans a “distraction” from the serious economic troubles the nation and its political leaders have been battling.

“Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs. We don’t want that,” Mr. Cantor said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Let’s put the federal dollars with the stem cell research that has produced results, which is the adult stem cell research,” Mr. Cantor said.

On Monday, Mr. Obama, who returned to the White House on Sunday from a weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat, also will sign a memorandum requesting federal agencies to establish clear scientific procedures for setting federal policy, including in the areas of energy, climate and national security.

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Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com. 

Questions

1. President Obama plans to lift limits on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research today. How will this alter the ban that President Bush implemented in 2001?

2. Which organization will be given the authority to decide what types of stem cells may be used or where embryos would be obtained?

3. What is the main reason supporters of embryonic stem-cell research have for promoting the use of these cells?

4. What reasons do opponents give for not supporting government funded embryonic stem-cell research?

5. Why does the House Minority Whip, Republican Eric Cantor, oppose the federal funding of embryonic stem cells? Be specific.

6. Do you support President Obama’s decision to permit taxpayer dollars to be used to fund embryonic stem cell research? Explain your answer.


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Background

Adult stem cells vs. embryonic stem cells. (from njfpc.org/Articles/AdultStem.asp)

  • Adult stem cell research has been on-going for 20-30 years, is not under any government restriction, and does not require the destruction of human life. These stem cells have already been used to treat spinal cord injuries, Leukemia, and even Parkinson’s disease . Adult stem cells are derived from umbilical cords, placentas, amniotic fluid, various tissues and organ systems like skin and the liver, and even fat obtained from liposuction.
  • In contrast, embryonic stem cells are obtained by harvesting living embryos generally 5 to 7 days old, which are destroyed in the process. Most importantly, embryonic stem cells have never yet been successfully used to help cure disease. In fact, in animals they have caused tumors and other complications. Embryonic stem cells are also being touted by some as a possible treatment for repairing the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, but stem cell researchers confess that this is a distortion that is not being aggressively corrected by scientists.
  • A new poll, conducted by International Communications Research, reveals that once Americans understand the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells, Americans strongly prefer funding adult stem cell research that does not destroy human life, by a margin of 61% to 23%. So, what is driving the biotech industry and many government officials to press for government money to subsidize embryonic stem cell research? Free money, and research without ethical limitations.
  • Private industry has not been willing to put up any large sums of money on their own for embryonic stem cell research, because they are not sure it will yield the results they hope for. However, some drugmakers are getting into the field of research utilizing adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. Investors are now taking notice that adult cells are actually working with human patients, and researchers are finding that these cells appear to be as flexible as the embryonic type.

The Adult stem cell technique named as Science Magazine’s “2008 Scientific Breakthrough of the Year” is a technique that allows stem cells to be created without the need to destroy embryos.
–The advance, which involves turning back the clock on adult tissue and “reprogramming” it with the properties of stem cells, could lead to new treatments for diseases including Parkinson’s and diabetes.
–The process allows for a potentially limitless numbers of “induced pluripotent stem” (IPS) cells to be made to order from a sick patient’s cells, meaning they do not risk rejection from the immune system when transplanted.
–The technique does not require stem calls to be harvested from embryos, making it more acceptable to religious groups.
–Dr Robert Coontz of the journal Science, which placed cellular reprogramming top of its list of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2008, said it “opened a new field of biology almost overnight and holds out hope of life-saving medical advances”. Three teams working in Japan and the United States made major advances with the technique over the last 12 months.

Resources

Watch a video and a podcast, and read additional information about the scientific breakthrough using
adult stem cells at sciencemag.org/btoy2008.

Read “Adult Stem Cell Success Stories 2008” at frc.org here and here.

Watch a video on Adult Stem Cell vs Embryonic Stem Cell Research Ethics.