Yesterday President Barack Obama issued an executive order that authorizes expanded federal funding for research using stem cells produced by destroying human embryos. The announcement was classic Obama: advancing radical policies while seeming calm and moderate, and preaching the gospel of civility while accusing those who disagree with the policies of being "divisive" and even "politicizing science."
Mr. Obama's executive order overturned an attempt by President George W. Bush in 2001 to do justice to both the promise of stem-cell science and the demands of ethics. The Bush policy was to allow the government to fund research on existing embryonic stem-cell lines, where the embryos in question had already been destroyed. But it would not fund, or in any way incentivize, the ongoing destruction of human embryos.
For years, this policy was attacked by advocates of embryo-destructive research. Mr. Bush and the "religious right" were depicted as antiscience villains and embryonic stem-cell scientists and their allies were seen as the beleaguered saviors of the sick. In reality, Mr. Bush's policy was one of moderation. It did not ban new embryo-destructive research (the president had no power to do that), and it did not fund new embryo-destructive research.
"Moderate" Mr. Obama's policy is not. It will promote a whole new industry of embryo creation and destruction, including the creation of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are destroyed. It forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicit in this practice.
Mr. Obama made a big point in his speech of claiming to bring integrity back to science policy, and his desire to remove the previous administration's ideological agenda from scientific decision-making. This claim of taking science out of politics is false and misguided on two counts.
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