President-elect Barack Obama says he might not use his executive authority to reverse his predecessor’s controversial limits on stem cell research – waiting instead for Congress to make the first move.
When he signed the relevant executive order in August 2001, President Bush banned the National Institutes of Health from funding stem cell research that destroyed embryos. This stance was hailed by anti-abortion groups. The President, however, left the door open to permit research on several dozen cell lines already in existence.
Obama pledged during the campaign to lift the Bush restrictions, and pundits have suggested the reversal via his own executive order might be among the first acts of the new chief executive.
Obama made his surprising declaration to CNN’s State of the Union anchor John King who interviewed the President-elect at a manufacturing factory in Bedford Heights, Ohio on Friday.
King’s question was: “You will have the power … at the stroke of a pen, to lift the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research. There may be the votes to do it in Congress now, but you don’t have to wait, you could do it in your first few minutes in office, will you?
“Well,” replied Obama, “if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people’s representatives. And I think that on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have a bipartisan support around that issue, the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s can actually find potentially some hope out there, you know, I think that sends a powerful message.
“So we’re still examining what things we’ll do through executive order,” Obama concluded. “But I like the idea of the American people's representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.”
Obama voted for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which was vetoed by President Bush. The bill would have allowed federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments.
In September of last year, candidate Obama was not as circumspect.
In answering a survey by ScienceDebate 2008, Obama wrote: “I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations.
“As president, I will lift the current administration's ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”
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