Nancy Reagan praises Obama's reversal of Bush stem cell ban
President Barack Obama Monday lifted his predecessor George W. Bush's curbs on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, promising a "new frontier" for US science free of political ideology.
The Democratic president signed an executive order reversing a policy that critics say has hampered the fight into finding treatments for grave diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes. One prominent figure pushing for the reversal of the Bush administration ban was former first lady Nancy Reagan.
Warning that scientists were deserting the United States for other nations, Obama said "medical miracles" come about only through painstaking research and rejected the "false choice" between sound science and moral values.
"When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored," he said at the White House, lauding the potential to help victims of debilitating illnesses and catastrophic injury.
"Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No president can promise that," Obama said.
"But I can promise that we will seek them -- actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground," he said, paying tribute to advocates of the research such as late Superman actor Christopher Reeve.
"Not just by opening up this new frontier of research today, but by supporting promising research of all kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells."
Obama directed the National Institutes of Health to formulate guidelines within 120 days on how to proceed with federal research on lines of stem cells procured from private laboratories such as fertility clinics.
His order cannot affect a congressional ban on federal money being used directly to create new stem cells, which are primitive cells from early-stage embryos capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body.
Addressing an audience of US lawmakers, scientists including three Nobel laureates and religious leaders, Obama also issued a presidential memorandum "restoring scientific integrity to government decision making."
The memorandum marked another break from claims that Bush intervened for partisan political reasons in federal science in areas such as climate change, endangered species and family planning.
Obama directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to ensure that "we base our public policies on the soundest science," and appoint scientific advisors based on expertise and "not their politics or ideology."
He vowed that he would not permit stem cell research to stray into the wilder bounds of science such as human cloning, which he said "has no place in our society, or any society."
"Under fire from congressional Republicans for lifting restrictions on stem-cell research, President Barack Obama got a powerful endorsement for his move Monday from Nancy Reagan, the former’s president’s wife," Politico's Craig Gordon reports.
In a statement released shortly after Obama's briefing, Nancy Reagan praised the decision.
“I’m very grateful that President Obama has lifted the restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research,” Reagan wrote. “These new rules will now make it possible for scientists to move forward. I urge researchers to make use of the opportunities that are available to them, and to do all they can to fulfill the promise that stem cell research offers. Countless people, suffering from many different diseases, stand to benefit from the answers stem cell research can provide. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases – and soon. As I’ve said before, time is short, and life is precious.”
Gordon notes, "Nancy Reagan has been an outspoken advocate of stem-cell research – and scientists hope that the research could someday lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicted her late husband, Ronald Reagan."
But there was still fierce fire from social conservatives and right-to-life groups, who back research on cells taken from human adults rather than embryos.
House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner said Obama had undermined "protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us."
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-abortion Family Research Council, called Obama's announcement "a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life."
But Reeve Foundation president Peter Wilderotter said: "With a stroke of his pen, President Obama acknowledged the will of the majority of Americans and harnessed the power of the federal government to move research forward.
"By removing politics from science, President Obama has freed researchers to explore these remarkable stem cells, learn from them and possibly develop effective therapies using them."
Bush barred federal funding from supporting work on new lines of stem cells derived from human embryos in 2001, allowing research only on a small number of embryonic stem cell lines that existed at the time.
The former president argued that using human embryos for scientific research -- which often involves their destruction -- crossed a moral barrier and urged scientists to consider alternatives.
Remarks of President Barack Obama - As Prepared for Delivery
Signing of Stem Cell Executive Order and Scientific Integrity Presidential Memorandum:
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. We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.
At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated. But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions. To regenerate a severed spinal cord and lift someone from a wheelchair. To spur insulin production and spare a child from a lifetime of needles. To treat Parkinson's, cancer, heart disease and others that affect millions of Americans and the people who love them.
But that potential will not reveal itself on its own. Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research - from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit - and from a government willing to support that work. From life-saving vaccines, to pioneering cancer treatments, to the sequencing of the human genome - that is the story of scientific progress in America. When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored. Some of our best scientists leave for other countries that will sponsor their work. And those countries may surge ahead of ours in the advances that transform our lives.
But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research - and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.
It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.
But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans - from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs - have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.
That is a conclusion with which I agree. That is why I am signing this Executive Order, and why I hope Congress will act on a bi-partisan basis to provide further support for this research. We are joined today by many leaders who have reached across the aisle to champion this cause, and I commend them for that work.
Ultimately, I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. 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. Not just by opening up this new frontier of research today, but by supporting promising research of all kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells.
I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.
This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear: promoting science isn't just about providing resources - it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda - and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.
By doing this, we will ensure America's continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.
That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making.. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals - to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.
As we restore our commitment to science, and resume funding for promising stem cell research, we owe a debt of gratitude to so many tireless advocates, some of whom are with us today, many of whom are not. Today, we honor all those whose names we don't know, who organized, and raised awareness, and kept on fighting - even when it was too late for them, or for the people they love. And we honor those we know, who used their influence to help others and bring attention to this cause - people like Christopher and Dana Reeve, who we wish could be here to see this moment.
One of Christopher's friends recalled that he hung a sign on the wall of the exercise room where he did his grueling regimen of physical therapy. It read: "For everyone who thought I couldn't do it. For everyone who thought I shouldn't do it. For everyone who said, 'It's impossible.' See you at the finish line."
Christopher once told a reporter who was interviewing him: "If you came back here in ten years, I expect that I'd walk to the door to greet you."
Christopher did not get that chance. But if we pursue this research, maybe one day - maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children's lifetime - but maybe one day, others like him might.
There is no finish line in the work of science. The race is always with us - the urgent work of giving substance to hope and answering those many bedside prayers, of seeking a day when words like "terminal" and "incurable" are finally retired from our vocabulary.
Today, using every resource at our disposal, with renewed determination to lead the world in the discoveries of this new century, we rededicate ourselves to this work.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.
(with wire reports)
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