Obama could lift Bush limits on stem cell research

President Barack Obama, who opposes limits on federal funding of stem cell research, will sign an executive order related to the issue on Monday, an administration official said on Friday.

The official could not confirm the details of what Obama would sign, but advisers had previously said he favoured lifting the eight-year limitation on funding of human embryonic stem cell research imposed by his predecessor, president George Bush.

The official also said Obama would make an announcement about a broader initiative to restore scientific integrity to government processes.

Other government officials, who asked not to be named, have said Obama could take several different routes to lifting the Bush limits on stem cell research. These include an executive order, a simple statement of policy, or some kind of joint action with Congress.

US legislation called the Dickey Amendment forbids the use of federal funds for the creation or destruction of human embryos for research.

In 1998, soon after human embryonic stem cells were discovered, the Health and Human Services Department determined that the Dickey Amendment did not apply to researchers working with human stem cells, so long as they did not get the cells themselves from embryos.

But in August 2001, Bush declared otherwise and limited the use of federal funds to human embryonic stem cell lines, or batches, that existed as of that moment. He vetoed congressional attempts to override this decision.

In June, 2007, when he was a US senator, Obama responded to one such Bush veto by saying he was ”deferring the hopes of millions of Americans who do not have the time to keep waiting for the cure that may save or extend their lives”.

He added: ”The promise that stem cells hold does not come from any particular ideology, it is the judgment of science, and we deserve a president who will put that judgment first and make this promise real for the American people.”

Several members of Congress who oppose abortion rights have supported broader federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, and the issue crosses the political divide.

Some Bills have focused on the use of stem cells from embryos created in fertility clinics, embryos that would otherwise be discarded.

Critics of the Bush administration accused it of inserting ideology into the scientific process — from the stem cell issue to climate change and even contraception. The Obama administration has been working to overturn these policies.

On Friday, the Health and Human Services Department moved to rescind a controversial rule, made final just before Obama took office, that would allow health care workers to invoke their consciences in refusing to provide health services or information to patients. This was strongly opposed by abortion rights activists. — Reuters

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