Stem Cell Move Fulfills Obama Pledge
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
President Barack Obama said today his administration plan to depart from the Bush administration and take a different approach to scientific research. Fulfilling a campaign promise, Obama signed an order allowing federal funding for the study of embryonic stem cells. Supporters believe studying these cells could lead to cures for illnesses from diabetes to paralysis.
BARACK OBAMA: 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
NORRIS: But he said his administration only would support research that follows strict ethical guidelines.
OBAMA: 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.
NORRIS: The President promised to restore scientific integrity to the federal government.
OBAMA: Promoting science isn't just about providing resources, it's also about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about letting scientists, like those who are 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...
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
NORRIS: President Obama there speaking in the East Room of the White House.
For more now on what these statements will mean, we're joined by NPR science correspondent Joe Palca.
JOE PALCA: Hey, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, why did this order on scientific integrity draw cheers from the crowd?
PALCA: Well, I think Aretha Franklin captured the idea when she said R-E-S-P-E- C-T. I think scientists have spent the last eight years feeling dissed. That's the way they felt. It wasn't true 100 percent of the time but that was the gestalt in the scientific community. And I think now they're seeing - they're hearing a president say, we love you and we respect your ideas. And, you know, that feels good.
NORRIS: So brand new day. Now, what does the new order actually mean for stem cell research?
PALCA: Well, for stem cell research it's very specific what it means. President George W. Bush allowed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research with the following major caveat: that all the stem cell lines had to have been created prior to August 9, 2001.
President Obama today said that restriction is gone. You may now apply for federal funds for embryonic stem cell research for embryonic stem cells created whenever, provided they meet certain ethical guidelines.
Interestingly, though, the federal government will not be making those embryonic stem cell lines because there's still a congressional restriction that prevents that from happening. So somebody else has to make them but federal funds can be used to study them.
NORRIS: Just give us a sense if the gates are now open, what kinds of things will start to happen?
PALCA: Well, the gates are open to a certain extent. I mean, the first thing that happens is that the National Institutes of Health that will actually hand out this money will set up those guidelines that you've heard President Obama describe about what's the ethical use of these stem cells.
Now, in some cases, that means asking the donors, do you approve of us destroying this embryo in order to obtain these stem cells? What should they be used for? Under what circumstances should they be studied? Is this really a valid research project that has a promise to do something or are you just wasting our time?
NORRIS: Now, we've been talking about what the President did do with these statements. Let's talk a little bit about what he did not do, specifically on embryonic stem cell research and funding.
PALCA: Well, it's not going to happen tomorrow. Nobody is going to back their, you know, pull their wheelbarrow up to the outside of the NIH and fill it up with cash. It's going to take some time to work out the procedures.
Happily for the government, several other major scientific organizations have already discussed it and come up with guidelines, so the government will have to decide which among the ones that are already out there they want to adopt.
NORRIS: The President, with this Executive Order, has heralded in an entirely new day for scientific research. But what about people who were not in the room, people who've pushed for these restrictions? I imagine the debate continues.
PALCA: Oh, right. I think that people who are morally opposed to the destruction of embryos for any purpose are still going to be upset that they're going to be destroyed for the purpose of deriving embryonic stem cells.
But I think more broadly, what's happened here is the President has taken the perspective not to diss anybody's opinions, or not to say your point of view isn't valid, but we're in a pluralistic society and most people feel that this is acceptable.
And so, if you don't think it's right, don't apply for the funds, don't use the therapies, don't - you know, don't benefit from it. But if you do, and a majority of Americans, according to the President do, then we're allowing it.
NORRIS: that's NPR's Joe Palca.
Joe, thanks so much.
PALCA: You're welcome.
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