- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

President Obama on Monday signed an executive order allowing the federal government to fund the full array of embryonic stem cell research, overturning one of the most contentious decisions of the Bush” >Bush administration.

Mr. Obama called the decision a bow to science and medicine, in contrast to Bush” >President Bush, who couched his own decision to severely restrict taxpayer funding as a moral issue.

“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,” Mr. Obama said as he signed an executive order and a memorandum overturning Bush” >Mr. Bush’s 2001 policy.

The executive order was eagerly anticipated by supporters, and the president was greeted by wild applause from the audience in the White House East Room.

Extracting embryonic stem cells for research kills the embryo, which is why many pro-life groups oppose both the research and the use of taxpayer dollars to fund it. Mr. Bush had limited federal funding only to those lines that existed when he issued his executive order in 2001, arguing those embryos already had been destroyed and thus the life-or-death decision already had happened.

But the research has the support of even some staunchly pro-life lawmakers, and polls show it has widespread backing. Mr. Obama acknowledged that “many thoughtful and decent people” disagreed on the morality of funding embryonic stem cell research, but said in this case the voice of the majority must rule.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Obama said there is no certainty from embryonic stem cell research, only that is was “promising.” Opponents disputed that promise, arguing other avenues of stem cell research, such as adult stem cells, have a more proven record.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, called Mr. Obama’s plans a “distraction” from the major issues of the day and said there are dangers in opening the door to this kind if research.

“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.”

With Mr. Bush’s old order in place, some states acted on their own, including California, which passed a ballot initiative directing that billions of dollars be spent on stem cell research, including embryonic stem cells.

Mr. Obama’s order frees the National Institutes of Health to fund any stem cell research it deems appropriate. NIH will write guidelines for funding.

The president said he would make sure “our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.”

Mr. Obama also said that choosing between science and morality was “a false choice.”

“In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent,” he said. “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.”

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