Like a movie star who went out of fashion, science spent the years of the Bush administration out of the headlines, but, now, President Obama has given science a new starring role with his executive order lifting limits on embryonic stem cell research.
What does the order actually mean? It means that new embryonic stem cell lines can now be used for scientific purposes and that money designated in the stimulus bill for health care research can be directed toward research with embryonic stem cells.
Why is this important? Stem cells are the super cells of the body. They have special powers, including the power to develop into many different cell types and to replenish other cells. Embryonic stem cells are considered to be more potent than adult stem cells. The problem lies in the fact that many people consider embryos to be living humans, and therefore consider the destruction of the embryo required to extract the stem cells to be murder.
The ideological switch in policy created by Obama�s executive order has been received as one would expect by the various individuals and groups who follow this issue. For example, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is thrilled, as is Parkinson�s Disease advocate Michael J. Fox, who, in a March 9, 2009 statement, declared his gratitude that the current administration acknowledges �the inherent value of scientific freedom.� Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who saw firsthand the devastation to her husband by Alzheimer�s Disease, also is happy.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice released a statement congratulating President Obama. On their web site, the coalition�s description of their position places the interests of persons suffering from diseases above those of excess embryos slated for destruction. Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the United States Bishops� Conference Pro-Life Committee, feels that the stem cell policy change shows the President�s interests to be solely political, according to Catholic Online.
According to CNN, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner feels that the President�s decision indicates that he is a divider and not a uniter. (Boehner didn�t use that phrase � I did, just for old time�s sake.) Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in the Washington Post, likened Obama�s move to picking a fight. Again, there seems to be a Republican feeling that Obama is to be criticized as someone who is looking for ways to separate Democrats and Republicans (as if former President Bush�s actions couldn�t be perceived in the same way).
Scientists, according to the Associated Press, are exuberant. Dr. Michael West, CEO of Embryome Sciences, Inc. � which serves the needs of researchers studying embryonic stem cells � stated in an AP article that the loosening of restrictions will it much easier for scientists to receive funding for research.
The debate over this new policy will undoubtedly continue, but the bottom line for Democrats is that Barack Obama promised during his campaign to lift the stem cell restrictions. The issue also is noted in the Democratic Party Platform. So those who voted for Obama knew, or should have known, that this was coming. Now, let�s hope that science doesn�t blow its close-up. Let�s hope that the comeback is a big success. It can�t help Christopher Reeve, and it probably won�t help Michael J. Fox, but it just might help your father, your grandmother, or even you.