Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama’s Order a Stem-Cell a Cure-All for the Controversy?

“Today, with the Executive Order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers; doctors and innovators; patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: we will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research.”

With these words and the stroke of a pen (well, six pens, technically), President Obama today made good on a much-anticipated campaign promise to lift restrictions on research that could yield new treatments for patients with spinal injuries, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and other life-threatening conditions.

Before Obama’s executive order, limits imposed in 2001 by President Bush blocked federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and restricted it to the use of existing lines. He twice vetoed congressional attempts to overturn the ban -- which many critics saw as an attempt to placate the most conservative segment of his supporters. By way of explanation, Bush said at the time, “It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect.”

Obama dismissed that approach as offering “a false choice between sound science and moral values.” And support for his decision, while predictably enthusiastic among patient-advocate groups and research institutions, also comes from some less likely corners: A Boston Globe roundup of standpoints from assorted religious leaders lends credence to Obama’s that while at times demands of faith and science must strike a “difficult and delicate balance,” the two are “not inconsistent.”

But even setting aside criticism from those like Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner -- who says Obama has “rolled back important protections for innocent life” -- assorted other challenges to the success of the research remain. The Christian Science Monitor cites one market analyst who predicts the executive order will have little immediate effect on the industry, which is currently geared toward less controversial adult stem cell research.

Additional obstacles -- from the minefield of intellectual property law to the shortage of capital in tough economic times -- may further delay realization of the field’s much-lauded potential. On Wednesday, March 18, you can get the latest outlook for stem cell research from one of its leading advocates, Bernard Siegel of the Genetics Policy Institute. Join him for “Stem Cell Advocacy 2.0: The Role of the Stem Cell Consumer Movement in the Obama Era” at noon in the club office. (For more information, check Club web site.)

--By Alia Salim


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