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Deconstructing Obama's Stem Cell Policy

Posted Mar 14 2009 4:21pm
I have been mouthing off at President Obama's stem cell actions all week, particularly with regard to his silent evisceration of the "alternative methods" federal funding requirement. Toward that end, I did what I do when steam is coming out my ears; wrote a piece for the Daily Standard. From my column:
The mainstream media--still obsessed with discrediting all things "Bush"--focused gleefully on the expected rescission of the restriction that under Bush limited federal funding to embryonic stem cell lines in existence on August 9, 2001. But opening up all existing and future embryonic stem cell lines to federal funding is not all that Obama did. While he made no mention of it in his widely covered East Room speech, a quiet press release issued on Monday stated that in addition to the above change, "Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked."

That opaque notice tells us absolutely nothing. But a little research makes clear why the administration was so terse: The 2007 executive order required the government to make a point of funding what are known as "alternative methods" for obtaining pluripotent stem cells. These are procedures that don't require the destruction of embryos to derive these powerful cells, which are theoretically able to become any tissue in the body. It is this capacity that scientists say makes embryonic stem cells so valuable.
The hypocrisy of taking away a policy that specifically bridged the bitter divides he promised to heal--pro life versus pro choice, liberal versus conservative, pro ESCR and anti ESCR--led me to this conclusion:
President Obama's silent revocation of alternative-methods funding as a special project of the federal government betrayed the concerted attempts made over the last eight years to find a common way forward in one of the most ethically contentious areas of biotechnological research. So much for bridging the country's cultural and political divides. So much for transparency in governance. So much for taking the politics out of science.
I am sure that this two-faced approach of saying one thing but doing the opposite will be a hallmark of the Obama Administration, at least with regard to issues we deal with here at SHS. For whatever it is worth, I will be deconstructing his policies all along the way.
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