- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

Although President Obama plans Monday to lift limits on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research and set broad scientific guidelines across all federal agencies, the battle over the contentious research is likely to continue, senior White House aides said Sunday.

“At the same time that we recognize there is a strong back-and-forth here, a broad swath of the American public supports stem-cell research,” said Melody Barnes, director of Mr. Obama’s Domestic Policy Council. “There are people of good faith on both sides of the issue.”

The executive order on stem-cell research would not dictate what types of stem cells may be used (embryonic or adult) or where embryos would be obtained, deferring instead to the National Institutes of Health to draw up the specifics. NIH would have 120 days to draft revised guidelines.

Harold Varmus, co-chairman of the White House Council on Science and Technology, said that many of the old debates surrounding the issue are likely to play out again as NIH drafts the rules for implementation.

“Those debates have occurred in other venues; we’ll have the benefit of those earlier deliberations,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s executive order will lift funding limits that President Bush set in August 2001 over moral objections to the destruction of embryonic human life. Mr. Bush banned federal funding of the research for all but a few lines of embryonic stem cells, those already in existence in 2001, about which Mr. Bush said at the time, “The life-and-death decision has already been made.”

Supporters of stem-cell research say the versatile cells have the theoretical potential to cure chronic and degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but have been stymied by limits on federal funding.

Opponents of stem-cell research denounce the research as a form of murder: The process requires a human embryo, often a cloned one, and then destroys it to extract its cells. They also note that adult stem cells have a better record of producing practical medical treatments and that recent scientific advances allow adult cells to be manipulated into having the protean quality of turning into any form of tissue - the feature embryonic stem cells have naturally that makes the latter so attractive.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, called Mr. Obama’s plans a “distraction” from the serious economic troubles the nation and its political leaders have been battling.

“Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs. We don’t want that,” Mr. Cantor said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Let’s put the federal dollars with the stem cell research that has produced results, which is the adult stem cell research,” Mr. Cantor said.

On Monday, Mr. Obama, who returned to the White House on Sunday from a weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat, also will sign a memorandum requesting federal agencies to establish clear scientific procedures for setting federal policy, including in the areas of energy, climate and national security.

Mr. Obama is pushing to establish a carbon-trading system that would charge companies for emitting greenhouse gases and redistribute the money to taxpayers and clean-energy programs. But the science of global warming has been a political conflagration, with political groups on both sides of the debate claiming exaggeration and rigging of scientific findings.

The president said during the campaign that he would separate political decisions from scientific findings, and congressional Democrats have said they plan to return science to the debate surrounding climate change.

“We viewed it as one manifestations of a failure to think carefully about how federal policy and use of scientific advice occurred,” Mr. Varmus said.

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