Stem cell research restrictions, & their reversal
Reactions to Obama's executive
order on stem cell research: 2009-MAR
As for abortion access, most religious and social
conservatives oppose embryonic research because of their beliefs concerning
Most believe that human life in the form of human spermatozoa and an ovum --
forms of life containing human DNA -- become a human person during the process
of conception. Although they do not discuss it often, many also believe that God
creates an immortal soul for each pre-embryo during conception. Thus any
activity to kill a pre-embryo or embryo is murder of a human being. Since the
extraction of stem cells kills the embryo, stem cell research is sometimes
called murder and compared to Nazi-era human experiments.
On 2009-MAR-09, President Obama signed an executive
order, overturning President George W. Bush's 2001 restrictions on stem cell
Objections to President Obama's decision from religious and social conservatives:
Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University?s Wagner
School of Public Service, wrote on 2009-MAR-07:
"Amid so much policy turmoil, reversing the Bush ban won't be as big a
story as it normally might, but will arouse opposition from religious groups
and other social conservatives opposed to this research on embryos."
Negative reactions were mainly focused on ethical concerns derived from
religious beliefs concerning the attainment of
|Nima Reza of the fundamentalist Christian group
Focus on the Family Action wrote:|
"A bill recently reintroduced in the U.S. Senate would pour more federal
funding into destructive embryonic stem-cell research. ..."
"David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research
Council, said the bill supports '... unethical and obsolete science. What
it does is simply open the floodgates so more human embryos can be
It is important to note the bill states that only embryos that were to be
discarded would be used in research.
|Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council said:|
"Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for experiments that require
the destruction of human life.* President Obama's policy change is
especially troubling given the significant adult stem cell advances that are
being used to treat patients now without harming or destroying human embryos."
After the signing, Perkins stated:
"The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to
create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints,"
Perkins may not have been aware of the president's instruction to the
National Institutes of Health to develop guidelines for stem cell research.
|John Boehner (R-OH), House Republican Leader, said that research
advances had made federal support for embryonic cells unnecessary. He was
referring to recent announcements in Canada and Scotland regarding
Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cells that have modified skin
cells to have many of the properties of embryonic stem cells. He said:
"Republicans enthusiastically support adult, cord blood, and pluripotent
stem cell research that have shown so much promise in recent years. The
question is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to subsidize the
destruction of precious human life.* Millions of Americans strongly oppose
that, and rightfully so."
|Rep. Chris Smith, (R - NJ) called Obama the "abortion president" on
2009-MAR-06. He said that Obama's stem cell policy was an expansion of:
"human embryo experimentation, ... Why does the president persist in
the dehumanizing of nascent human life* when better alternatives exist?
Human embryo-destroying stem cell research is not only unethical,
unworkable and unreliable -- it is now, demonstrably unnecessary." 3
|Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) wrote in a statement:
"If an embryo is a life, and I believe strongly that it is life, then no
government has the right to sanction their destruction for research
He argued that adult stem cells that do not require killing of human
embryos offer as much promise. 4
|Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia is chairperson of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on pro-life activities. He
described Obama's decision as:|
"... a sad victory of politics over science
and ethics. ... This action is morally wrong because it encourages the
destruction of innocent human life,*
treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested." 5
|Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, a leading Vatican bioethics specialist,
discounted Obama's stated concern for the many tens of millions of persons who suffer or will
suffer from disease and disorders for whom embryonic stem cell research hold
promise for a cure or treatment. Sgreccia told Italian media:
"The motive for this decision should be seen in the pressure for profits." 5
|Wendy Wright, president of
Concerned Women for America said: |
"President Obama's order places the worst kind of politics above ethics.
Politics driven by hype makes overblown promises, fuels the desperation of the
suffering and financially benefits those seeking to strip morality from
|Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.,
chairman of the Republican
Study Committee, said the president's new policy would "force taxpayers
to subsidize research that will destroy
Actually, the only embryos used would be surplus embryos slated for
|The Douglas Johnson, spokesperson of the National Right to Life Committee wrote:|
"Obama opens door [sic] to human embryo farms. It's a sad day when the
federal government will fund research that exploits living members of the
human species as raw material for research."
This is a curious statement, because fertility labs across the U.S. and
elsewhere already have "embryo farms" where hundreds of thousands of frozen fertilized embryos
are held in
storage waiting to be destroyed, allowed to die, or in very rare cases
implanted in a womb. Yet there has been little effort made by conservatives to
change the labs' procedures. Stem cell research facilities only have inventories
of stem cell lines, no embryos.
Support for Obama's decision:
|Larry Soler, executive vice president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research
Foundation believes that If scientists can study these cells using U.S.
government funding, it will speed research into those conditions. He said that
the expected shift will:
"Update the current policy, which has been frozen in place since 2001 and
allow broad use of new technologies discovered over the last eight years.
... For 30 million Americans with some form of diabetes, stem cell research
offers a possibility to develop new treatments." 6
|Biotime Inc. of Berkeley, CA, is currently selling 88 cell lines that are
carrying genetic diseases, including muscular dystrophy, Huntington?s disease
and multiple sclerosis. They were were created by a Chicago fertility center
from embryos discarded from in-vitro fertilization treatments. CEO Michael
"As the entrepreneur who was out there trying to move the industry forward,
the Bush policy massively impacted the willingness of investors to put up
money. Many of us hope this will spawn the new era of regenerative medicine we?ve been waiting for all these years. What a sigh of relief." 6
|The Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY is
a "... secularist think tank and leading advocate of embryonic stem cell
research." They applauded:|
President Barack Obama's executive order
reversing the eight-year-old ban on federal research funding for stem cell
lines created after August 2001."
" 'The federal government has been a critical source of funds for health care
research in many areas, and it is unconscionable that progress in stem cell
research has been adversely affected for eight years by objections that
reflected little more than religious dogma,' said Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI
president and CEO. 'We are very pleased that President Obama has decided to
support this research that is likely to provide substantial benefit to
millions of individuals'."
Lindsay is the author of the 2006 CFI position paper,
"Stem Cell Research: An Approach to Bioethics Based on Scientific Naturalism,"
produced by the Center for Inquiry's Washington D.C. Office of Public Policy
to clarify the scientific standing on the ethics of stem cell research.
"... Paul Kurtz, CFI founder and chairman, stressed the significance of opening
up access to fresh lines of stem cell for broad, federally funded research.
'If we are going to make significant progress in developing cures and
therapies, researchers have to be able to utilize all avenues of study and
funding for these studies must be available to the wider scientific
community,' he said. 'Our brightest minds should never have been limited in
their access to breakthrough medical technologies, which essentially allowed
the research of our global competitors to progress with an eight-year head
start. Reversing the funding ban is a move that most in the scientific
community welcome as long overdue'."
"Although critics point to advances in the research of "reprogrammed" human
somatic cells, which offer hope as an alternative to embryonic stem cells,
Lindsay notes that any research gains require study of different types of stem
cells, as embryonic stem cells can have properties different than stem cells
created from reprogrammed somatic cells. 'There is promise in many alternative
areas of research, but it's imprudent to dismiss research on embryonic stem
cells simply to appease opponents whose dogmatic insistence that an embryo is
the moral equivalent of an adult human has no basis in science'."
"The Center for Inquiry also supports wholeheartedly the president's
accompanying memorandum assuring the scientific community freedom from
political ideology. In a statement to reporters, Obama science advisor and
past National Institutes of Health director Dr. Harold Varmus said the
president was acting on campaign promises to return the state of science
research to its pre-Bush prominence."
2006 Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism,
Varmus said, 'Public policy must be guided by sound scientific advice'."
|Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and father of
two children with Type I diabetes who might eventually possibly be treated
with stem cells, said:
"I think patients everywhere will be cheering us on, imploring us to work
faster, harder and with all of our ability to find new treatments On a
personal level, it is an enormous relief and a time for celebration. ...
Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when
there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government."
|Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a minister of the United Church of
Christ and a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary said:|
"There is an ethical imperative to relieve suffering and promote healing. This
is good policy for a religiously pluralistic society that cares about human
suffering and the relief of human suffering."
|Rev. Joel Hunter is evangelical pastor from Orlando, FL who serves on an
Obama White House advisory panel. He was encouraged by Obama's action. He
"The principle is still that it's not only understandable but in some ways
moral to use embryonic stem cells that are destined for destruction for
research for helping people," he said. "I think we have to tread very lightly
and very carefully, and I think we have to be vigilant for years to come."
|Neurosurgeon Dalton Dietrich at the University of Miami Stem Cell Institute commented:|
"I have been waking up many mornings very excited about the possibility of
using these cells to target many of the problems we see with stroke, brain
trauma, spinal cord injury." 11
|Joshua Hare, director of the Miami institute, said that researchers will now be able to compare various
treatments with embryonic stem cells, and adult cells. He said:|
"We will be more scientifically free to look at all different kinds of cells
and compare cells to one another. Our scientific opportunity is much much
greater now. ... We are a profession about the respect for life. So everything
we do with embryonic stem cells will be done with the utmost of care, ethics
Philip Pullella of Reuters News Service wrote:
"Father Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center
of Georgetown University, suggested several ways the Obama administration
could find some middle ground."
"Reese's suggestions include not creating embryos for the sole purpose of
research but instead using only excess embryos produced at fertility clinics
that are scheduled to be destroyed anyway."
"He also said researchers should show that the research they are doing
cannot be done with non-embryonic stem cells, and that research using
embryonic stem cells should aim at advancing toward the goal of using only
non-embryonic stem cells."
* Editor's criticisms:
|We have never seen any reference by conservative religious or social groups to two very important facts concerning
adult stem cells:|
|That adult stem cell research had a two decade advance start over
embryonic stem cells. Thus, clinical trials for procedures using adult cells
are already underway. The first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells
involve paraplegic individuals paralyzed due to spinal column injuries.
The first human trials in the U.S. are scheduled for mid-2009. The
treatment has had notable success outside the U.S.|
|Adult stem cells have already begun to specialize. This limits their range
of application. Embryonic stem cells are theoretically capable of becoming
any of the 220 cell types in the body.|
|We see many references to "human life" in articles by social or religious
conservatives that really are referring to "human personhood." This needlessly
confuses discussion on embryonic stem cell research and abortion access.|
|Opponents to embryonic stem cell research rarely if ever refer to the fact that
research is limited to those embryos that are surplus embryos in fertility
clinics and that are already destined for destruction.|
|Supporters of embryonic stem cell research rarely explain that the
immense potential of stem cells will not result in treatments and cures
being generally available for years.|
References used in the above essay:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Nima Reza, "Legislation Would Add Funding for Destructive Embryonic
Stem-Cell Research," CitizenLink.com, at:
- Ben Feller and Lauren Neergaard, "Pro-family leader denounces stem cell
policy change," One News Now, 2009-MAR-07, at:
- "Congressman Labels Obama 'Abortion President' Ahead of Stem Cell Reversal.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., accused Obama of launching two attacks on pro-life
measures," FOXNews, 2009-MAR-06, at:
- David Alexander, "Obama lists Bush restrictions on stem cell research,"
Reuters News Agency, 2009-MAR-09, at:
- Philip Pullella, "Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope," Reuters,
- Rob Waters, "Obama Stem Cell Shift Will Speed Hunt for Cures, Scientists
Say," Bloomberg, 2009-MAR-08, at:
- "CFI Applauds Executive Order on Stem Cell Funding," Center for Inquiry
press release, 2009-MAR-09, at:
- Seth Borenstein & Ben Feller, "Obama opens up stem cell work, science
inquiries," Associated Press, 2009-MAR-09, at:
- Eric Gorski, "Stem-cell decision exposes religious divides," Associated
Press, 2009-MAR-10, at:
- David Alexander, "Scientists laud stem-cell reversal," Toronto Star,
2009-MAR-10, Page A4.
Researchers Welcome Obama Stem-Cell Decision,"
VOA News, 2009-MAR-10, at:
Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-10
Author: B.A. Robinson