Medical Professionals Online

Editorials, Opinion Pieces Respond To Executive Order Easing Restrictions On Embryonic Stem Cell Research

October 22, 2017

Newspapers recently published the following editorials and opinion pieces discussing President Obama's decision on Monday to lift some federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

~ New York Times: Obama's move to ease some of former President George W. Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research "ends a long, bleak period in which moral objections of religious conservatives were allowed to constrain the progress of a medically important science," a Times editorial says. It adds that for other promising stem cell research efforts to receive federal funding, Congress also "must lift a separate ban that it has imposed every year since the mid-1990s." The editorial continues, "With the end of the Bush restrictions, scientists receiving federal money will be able to work with hundreds of stem cell lines that have since been created -- and many more that will be created in the future." However, "[o]ther important embryonic research is still being hobbled by the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment," which is regularly attached to HHS appropriation bills and prohibits the use of federal funds for research that involves the creation or destruction of embryos, according to the editorial. "Until that changes, scientists who want to create embryos -- and extract stem cells -- matched to patients with specific disease will have to rely on private or state support," the editorial says. It concludes, "Congress should follow Mr. Obama's lead and lift this prohibition so such important work can benefit from an infusion of federal dollars" (New York Times, 3/10).

~ Washington Post: A Washington Post editorial says that Obama did "the right thing" in rescinding some of Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. However, "this type of experimentation is thick with ethical and moral questions, many of which Mr. Obama put off answering," the editorial adds. According to the editorial, Obama "offered little indication" of how he would enforce guidelines on how embryos would be obtained and used, including if research will be "performed only on stem cell lines grown from the thousands of frozen embryos in fertility clinics that have been slated for destruction." The editorial also asks, "Where does [Obama] stand on growing human embryos for experimentation in general and using them for stem cells in particular?" It concludes, "Some of these ethical questions need to be dealt with in the political arena, and not just by scientists" (Washington Post, 3/10).

~Yuval Levin, Washington Post: Obama's executive order "inadvertently cast a bright light on a dangerous temptation in science policy that ought to give Americans pause," Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and executive director of the President's Council on Bioethics from 2003 to 2005, writes in a Post opinion piece. He continues, "[W]hile Obama promised that his policy would be bound by ethical guidelines, he left it to the scientists of the National Institutes of Health to define the rules. The issue, he suggested, is a matter of science, not politics." However, "science policy is not just a matter of science," Levin writes, adding, "Like all policy, it calls for a balancing of priorities and concerns and requires a judgment of needs and values that in a democracy we trust to our elected officials." Levin argues that "to govern the practice of scientific techniques that threaten to violate important moral boundaries is not only legitimate but in some cases essential." According to Levin, the president "argues not for an ethical judgment regarding the moral worth of human embryos but, rather, that no ethical judgment is called for: that it is all a matter of science." He continues that "[t]his is a dangerous misunderstanding," adding, "It is the role of elected policymakers to consider the knowledge that science offers and the power it gives us, and to balance these with other priorities." He concludes, "Science is a glorious thing, but it is no substitute for wisdom, prudence or democracy" (Levin, Washington Post, 3/10).

~USA Today: "Obama's move was a necessary and overdue step to advance research that has the potential to regenerate damaged organs and might one day provide a cure for ... debilitating diseases," according to a USA Today editorial. It adds, "More broadly, it sends an important signal about getting politics out of the laboratory." The editorial continues, "Obama's executive order is not a green light for all research on embryos. Since 1996, Congress has enacted a yearly ban, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, on spending tax dollars to create embryos." According to the editorial, "It is up to Congress to decide whether it should be overturned," while the "answer to that question depends on whether existing embryos ... and stem cell lines are sufficient, or whether more are needed to advance research." The editorial notes that "[p]olls show 2-to-1 support for embryonic stem cell research," concluding, "Obama's order doesn't guarantee medical breakthroughs, but it makes them more likely" (USA Today, 3/10).

~ Tony Perkins, USA Today: Instead of "increasing funding for stem cell research that is actually treating patients," Obama has decided to "open federal funding to controversial research that requires the destruction of human embryos," Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, writes in a USA Today opinion piece. According to Perkins, "Since November 2007, Japanese and U.S. scientists have used reprogramming to turn normal cells into embryonic-like stem cells that are identical to embryonic stem cells, without using human embryos or cloning. Researchers call these cells induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs." He writes that "the president has chosen to reignite the waning debate over the use of human embryos," adding, "This is both unwise and unnecessary." Perkins says, "Instead of funding speculative embryo research, the federal government should increase funding for stem cell research that is even now treating patients for dozens of serious conditions." He writes that "Congress should refocus resources on what is working now, by increasing funding for cord blood and other types of adult stem cell research," adding that the "best way to do so" is to approve legislation sponsored by Reps. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.). "Putting patients first is a strategy we can all embrace," Perkins concludes (Perkins, USA Today, 3/10).

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