Obama: science should trump politics

President Obama, lifting an eight-year limit on federal funding of stem cell research, today portrayed his decision as part of a broader move to focus on science instead of politics.

Besides signing an executive order (read it here) reversing the Bush administration restrictions, Obama is also issuing a presidential memorandum (read it here) directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making.

The goal, the president said: "To ensure that in this new administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions."

On embryonic stem cell research in particular, Obama acknowledged the religious-based opposition. But he said there is an ethical way to do such research.

"Rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," he said in the East Room of the White House, filled with advocates of stem cell research who cheered and applauded his annoucement. "In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given a capacity and will to pursue this research -- and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."

Under Bush's order, taxpayer money could only be used for research on a small number of stem cell lines created before Aug. 9, 2001. Since, hundreds more stem cell lines have been created, but off-limits to federal funding.

While urging Congress to give more money to stem cell research, Obama is leaving to Congress the particularly controversial issue of whether taxpayer money should be used to experiment on embryos themselves. A congressional ban has been in place since 1996. He also made clear he opposes cloning for human reproduction.

The president also said that while stem cell research holds much promise in the treatment of spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and Parkinsons disease, there is no certainty.

"But that potential will not reveal itself on its own," Obama said. "Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit, and from a government willing to support that work.

"Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek," he added. "No president can promise that. But I can promise that we will seek them -- actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground. Not just by opening up this new frontier of research today, but by supporting promising research of all kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells.

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Obama: science should trump politics

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