Obama Stem Cell Decision Called 'Deadly Executive Order'
Fluorescence microscopy image overlaid with phase image to display incorporation of microspheres (red) in embryoid bodies (gray clusters).
Credit: Todd McDevitt, Georgia Tech.

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Update Monday, 3/9: President Obama today signed an executive order reversing the Bush administration ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek," Obama said. "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."

The order doesn't address a separate legislative ban that prevents federal spending to develop new embryonic stem cell lines; that legislation, however, doesn't prevent federal funding to study embryonic stem cell lines once developed. As the Associated Press explains, new lines were creating during the years of the Bush ban, which goes back to 2001.

The story below remains as it was originally written.

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President Obama is expected on Monday to reverse limitations set by the Bush administration for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The expected move, hailed by many as science winning out over politics, is seen as immoral by others, who believe that a human embryo deserves the same moral and legal protection as any human life.

In a New York Times article, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the expected announcement "a deadly executive order" and "a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life."

Embryonic stem cells are able to become all the cells of the body. Scientists see potential in them to cure deadly diseases and perhaps allow development of tissues that could replace organs or fix nerves to reverse paralysis. In 2001, Bush limited federal funding to existing lines of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed.

In recent years, other stem cells not derived from embryos have also proven valuable to researchers. But many scientists say the greatest potential remains with embryonic stem cells.

Proponents of stem cell research argue that the embryos that are studied have been discarded by parents who picked other embryos for in vitro fertilization. The proponents believe the ethics of all this should be sorted out by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere, not by the White House.

It is not clear whether Obama will issue an executive order on the matter or seek the involvement of Congress, the Times reports.

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Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he takes a daily look at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.

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