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President Obama Kills Ban on Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Staff
March 10, 2009
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WASHINGTON, ( -- Advocates International expressed its dismay and astonishment today that President Obama not only ordered the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to revoke and reverse the ethical administration policy established in 2001 and begin for the first time using federal tax dollars to encourage researchers to destroy living human embryos for stem cell research in violation of existing federal law, but, without explanation, also revoked the previous administration's Executive Order 13435 (June 20, 2007) authorizing federal funding of stem cell research that produces the same or superior pluripotent stem cells produced by living human embryos without any need to destroy such embryos.

Sam Casey, Advocates International's General Counsel and one of the attorneys involved in the federal court litigation in 2001 that resulted in the lawful and ethical stem cell research policy revoked by President Obama, labeled the President's actions today "legally limited, unnecessary, unethical and fiscally irresponsible."

"President Obama's Executive Order is legally limited and only authorizes NIH action 'to the extent permitted by law.'" Casey notes that "existing law currently bans the expenditure of any federal funds for the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under 45 CFR 46.204(b) and section 498(b) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 289g (b))." Given this existing federal funding ban, Casey doubts NIH will be able to safely do much more than they are already doing without violating existing federal law. That is why, Casey says, he is so "dumbfounded that President Obama, by his actions today, also seems to have revoked NIH's executive authority to do much of the lawful stem cell research they were doing."

Casey also agreed with many other critics of the President's actions saying, "It was scientifically unnecessary and even counter-productive because ethically sound ways and means for advancing stem cell science and medical treatments were already authorized and moving forward under Executive Order 13435 that President Obama revoked today." Casey adds, "Many of the scientists with whom we have consulted affirm that there are other approaches available for producing similar, and potentially more beneficial, mature cells without killing innocent human embryos. A recently discovered approach is genetic induction of mature cells to acquire the characteristics of human ES cells. These induced stem cells have nearly identical properties to human ES cells, including their fatal flaws. Sadly, it appears that for political, not scientific reasons President Obama has decided to try to make federal funding available for destructive human embryonic research without informing the American people that such research is already a market casualty of completely ethically induced stem cell research. Induced stem cell research does not require living human embryos, that will always be too scarce, even with federal support." Casey also points out that while opposition to human ES cell research is often cast by news reports as primarily a religious objection, there are many scientists, physicians, and reproductive health professionals who object based on their knowledge of the humanity of human embryos and their knowledge of stem cell therapeutics. A growing worldwide list of them is publicly expressing their objection by endorsing an online scientists' and physicians' declaration ( against human ES cell research and abortion.

Casey also noted that "President Obama's actions today are obviously ethically offensive to everyone who understands the undisputed scientific biological fact, as recently affirmed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal, that 'during its embryonic age,' a human embryo is 'a whole, separate, unique, living human being, an individual living member of the species of Homo sapiens.'" See Planned Parenthood v. Rounds, 530 F.3rd 724, 735-736 (8th Cir 2008). "For all who understand this biological fact and also believe that every human being has intrinsic moral value -- President Obama's decision is clearly unethical," Casey said. "Destroying one human life through human experimentation, even in order to possibly help other human beings, is always morally wrong and should not be countenanced by any government, particularly in this case where it is not even necessary and the subject of the experimentation cannot possibility give his or her consent. It is also ethically wrong to force taxpayers who do honor the dignity of every human being to help pay for research that they believe is an immoral taking of innocent human life."

President Obama's action, if implemented, will prove to be fiscally irresponsible. Scientists have been conducting research with both adult and embryonic stem cells for years. Only research with adult stem cells has yielded any successes in the treatment of human disease. Such successes have been numerous. More than 70 diseases and conditions presently are being treated with adult stem cell therapy. Those diseases or conditions include diabetes, heart disease, cerebral palsy, renal failure, liver damage, and hepatitis. Most recently, a patient suffering from Parkinson's disease was treated successfully with his own stem cells. On the other hand, research with embryonic stem cells has been plagued with problems. Specifically, tests -- which to date has been limited to animals due to the inherent risks -- invariably have ended in failure due to immune rejection and rapid replication of cells leading to cancerous tumors. The fact that tests utilizing embryonic stem cells often result in tumorous growths should come as no surprise -- even to the layman. At the embryonic stage, human life is characterized by rapid development into a fully formed human being. Embryonic stem cells divide and specialize rapidly in order to form all the cells, tissues and organs necessary for the human body to function. Taken out of that environment, embryonic stem cells still continue to replicate rapidly and thus form tumors. Most of the research in embryonic stem cells, ironically, has been aimed at getting those embryonic stem cells to act like adult stem cells! "While politicians bent on devaluing human life continue to tout embryonic stem cell research as the most promising research because of the ability of embryonic stem cells to differentiate into all cells of the body, research has proven that adult stem cells have the same ability to change into every kind of cell, tissue and organ in the body. Therefore," Casey said, "we think it is fiscally irresponsible to channel limited federal funds away from research that has a proven track record of treating human disease into research that shows no hope for doing so."

Advocates International is an international organization of attorneys in over 150 nations who seek to do justice with compassion, including through its Global Task Forces on the Law of Life protecting the inalienable and sacred right to human life from biological conception to natural death.

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