Monday, March 09, 2009

President Reverses Policy on Federal Funding of Stem Cell Research

Today President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order (full text ) lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. In remarks (full text) delivered before signing the Order, the President referred to the religious debate that has surrounded the issue:

[I]n recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. 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 the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.

It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans – from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs – have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.

The President added some assurances:
We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.
Reactions from religious groups, which came quickly after news of plans for today's Executive Order became known on Friday, varied. The Interfaith Alliance called the decision "good news for science and religion," saying that "the ban instituted by President Bush was based on the views of a select group of faiths rather then on sound science." JTA reports that Jewish groups also praised Obama's decision, focusing on the importance in Judaism of saving lives. The Vatican on the other hand strongly condemned the policy reversal. The International Herald Tribune quotes from an article in Saturday's L'Osservatore Romano which called embryonic stem cell research "deeply immoral." The Family Research Council issued a statement on Friday calling the move by the President "yet another deadly executive order."

UPDATE: The White House List of Attendees at the President's signing of the Stem Cell Executive Order and Scientific Integrity Presidential Memorandum includes seven religious leaders: (1) Maureen Shea, Episcopal Church USA Director of Government Relations; (2) James Winkler, United Methodist Church Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society; (3) Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; (4) Rev. Welton Gaddy, Interfaith Alliance; (5) Nancy Ratzan, National Council of Jewish Women; (6) Nathan Diament, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations; (7) Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.