Obama Rescinds Bush-Era Executive Order Pushing for More Ethical Stem Cell Research

The Executive Order which Obama signed yesterday formally and specifically rescinded Executive Order 13435, which President Bush signed into law on June 20th of 2007, and which was an initiative pushing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “conduct and support research” on stem cells that “may result in improved understanding for treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus” – such as, for example, therapies developed from research conducted on adult stem cells and on iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells. Consequently, in response to President Bush’s 2007 Executive Order, the NIH (the National Institutes of Health) drew up a plan at that time for implementing President Bush’s order, in which the NIH authors stated that, “Adult stem cells, such as blood-forming stem cells in bone marrow … are currently the only type of stem cell commonly used to treat human diseases.” Indeed, the only type of stem cell research that has ever yielded an actual treatment for anything is adult stem cell research, which is already being used in clinics around the world for a wide variety of diseases and injuries. By sharp contrast, embryonic stem cells have never resulted in any therapies for anything.

President Obama is not without his critics, especially in his decision to rescind this particular Executive Order of President Bush, which did not prohibit anything but instead specifically encouraged further research with adult stem cells and other non-embryonic sources of adult stem cells, such as iPS cells. One such critic of Obama, the bioethicist Wesley Smith, points out that Obama is putting politics and ideology above science – the very thing that Obama accuses his predecessor of doing. According to Wesley Smith, “I can think of only two reasons for this action, for which I saw no advocacy either in the election or during the first weeks of the Administration: first, vindictiveness against all things ‘Bush’ or policies considered by the Left to be ‘pro-life’; and second, a desire to get the public to see unborn human life as a mere corn crop ripe for the harvest. So much for taking the politics out of science!”

The precise reasons why Mr. Obama decided to overturn an Executive Order that sought to attain stem cell therapies from non-embryonic sources such as adult stem cells and iPS cells, is anyone’s guess. One would think that “a man of faith”, as President Obama describes himself, would be in favor of such research and development purely on ethical grounds, if not also on scientific grounds, which are considerably more compelling for adult stem cells than for embryonic stem cells. To the contrary, however, yesterday’s actions by Obama demonstrate not only that he is strongly pro-embryonic stem cell research, at all costs, but also that he is strongly anti-adult stem cell research.

According to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, “Advancements in science and research have moved faster than the debates among politicians in Washington, D.C., and breakthroughs announced in recent years confirm that the full potential of stem cell research can be realized without the destruction of human embryos.”

As Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama also adds, “My basic tenet here is I don’t think we should create life to enhance life and to do research and so forth. I know that people argue there are other ways. I think we should continue our biomedical research everywhere we can, but we should have some ethics about it.”

(Please see the related article on this website, entitled, “Obama Decrees Changes in Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Though Not What One Might Expect”, dated March 9, 2009).

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