By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
President Obama today signed an executive order reversing the Bush administration's ban on new stem cell lines. Previously, President Bush restricted the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cells, except for those stem cell lines already in existence in August of 2001, when he announced his policy. Already, former first lady Nancy Reagan has praised President Obama's reversal of that. According to Politico, "Her statement also illustrates how support for the research crosses party lines, even though many in the anti-abortion movement strongly oppose the research on moral and ethical grounds."
I've written before about my support for stem-cell research as a pro-life Republican, and I'm glad Mrs. Reagan reacted so quickly and positively.
According to press reports, President Obama's actions today clear the way for a big increase in federal funding for stem cell research. As you can imagine, federal funding for this under the Bush administration was nonexistent; some states, such as California, funded it using state funds after a ballot initiative a few years back. I've spoken with scientists working on a cure for Type I diabetes, and they've told me that many good researchers have stayed away from working in U.S. labs because of the vagaries of funding levels and political controversy associated with their work. It's a more stable research environment, from their point of view, to be working in labs where political support for stem cell research is unwavering.
As a parent of a child with Type I diabetes, I can tell you that most other parents do not think that a cure will come from scientists working in the United States. We've been involved for the last eight years (our daughter was diagnosed the same year as Bush's ban, in 2001) with helping to find a cure, and we've seen that American parents fund a tremendous amount of stem-cell research in Israel, Canada and Australia, to name only a few foreign countries.
While I am glad that President Obama reversed the ban today—and I'm sure the 100 million Americans who could be eventually be cured of Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries and auto-immune diseases like Type I agree—I'm not sure how much of an effect it will have on American research projects. Much of the best work is already coming from overseas. The question is, will increased funding be enough to lure the best and the brightest researchers into working in the United States?
Let's hope so. As Mrs. Reagan put it, "Time is short, and life is precious."
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