Obama reverses Bush’s ban on federal funding for stem cell research

| March 10, 2009

       The President has reversed a ban on federal funding for stem cell research, and it has received wide media coverage, with most reports — including lead stories on two out of three network broadcasts — casting the move as a significant step away from former President Bush's science policies. Typical of much of the coverage is an AP (3/9, Borenstein, Feller) story that reports, "Researchers said the new president's message was clear: Science, which once propelled men to the moon, again matters in American life." Along those lines, ABC World News (3/9, lead story, 2:20, Gibson) reported that, "in what could only be interpreted as a direct rebuke of…Bush," the President stated that "his Administration would make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology. So saying, the President reversed eight years of Bush policy and cleared the way for a significant amount of federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research." Correspondent Jake Tapper explained, "Researchers will not get funding until July, after the Administration issues guidelines to prevent misuse and abuse." ABC News (3/10) also publishes this story on its website.

        CBS Evening News (3/9, lead story, 2:10, Couric) also led its broadcast with the story, also providing two other reports. NBC Nightly News (3/9, story 5, 2:35, Bazell) also covered the story.

        The New York Times (3/10, Stolberg) reports that Obama "paired his executive order" on stem cell research "with another document, a presidential memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to 'develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.'"

        In a front page story, the Washington Post (3/10, A1, Stein) reports, "The task of deciding what kinds of studies will be supported now falls to the National Institutes of Health, which finds itself confronting far more extensive questions than its officials were contemplating. It has 120 days to do the job." The Post adds, "Among other things, officials will have to decide whether to endorse studies on cells obtained from much more contentious sources, such as embryos created specifically for research or by means of cloning techniques."

        The San Francisco Chronicle (3/10, Tansey) notes that, "In addition to debates in Congress, another battleground could emerge at the National Institutes of Health as it decides how to distribute stem cell grant money." Questions to "be tackled by the NIH, [include] whether the agency can only fund studies of embryonic stem cells if they have been derived from surplus embryos at in-vitro fertilization clinics whose clients donate the extra embryos. The public will have a chance to comment on the regulations."

        The Los Angeles Times (3/10, James) notes that Obama said that "among the dangers…was the potential for the cloning of humans. But he said his administration would put strict rules in place to prevent such cloning." USA Today (3/9, Vergano) added that, according to "policy experts," Obama's "orders on science and stem cell research have a symbolic importance that's even greater than their impact on science."

        The Washington Times (3/10, Dinan) reports, "Declaring that the stem cell issue had moved past Mr. Bush's life-or-death morality, Mr. Obama said he is instead bowing to a different morality that respects majority opinion and puts the ethic of helping the living at the top."

        The Hill (3/10, Wilson), the Chicago Tribune (3/10, Kaplan), Bloomberg News (3/10, Chen, Runningen), McClatchy (3/10, Thomma), The Politico (3/10, Martin), US News & World Report (3/10), the Financial Times (3/10, Sevastopulo), BBC News (3/10), and AFP (3/10, Joshi) also cover the story.

        Op-ed, editorial state political questions not yet answered. Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who "was executive director of the President's Council on Bioethics from 2003 to 2005," writes in an op-ed in the Washington Post (3/10, A13), "What you think of his policy depends on what you think of the moral status of embryos. " Yet "the executive order Obama signed omits any mention of ethical debate. The entirety of the case it makes for itself is that 'advances over the past decade in this promising scientific field have been encouraging, leading to broad agreement in the scientific community that the research should be supported by Federal funds.' And while Obama promised that his policy would be bound by ethical guidelines, he left it to the scientists of the National Institutes of Health to define the rules. The issue, he suggested, is a matter of science, not politics." But "science policy is not just a matter of science."

        Meanwhile, the Washington Post (3/10, A12) editorializes, "The White House said that Mr. Obama doesn't want to prejudge the NIH guidelines but that this will not be the last we'll hear from Mr. Obama on this subject. We hope not. Some of these ethical questions need to be dealt with in the political arena, and not just by scientists."

        Obama accused of putting "his own spin" on science policy. Not all was praise for the President's decision. In a story titled "Obama Puts His Own Spin On Mix Of Science With Politics," the New York Times (3/10, A18, Stolberg) reports that Obama's directives "will not divorce science from politics, or strip ideology from presidential decisions. … Bush's defenders see Mr. Obama as just imposing an ideology of his own. They say Mr. Bush did not ignore scientific facts; rather, he took the counsel of scientists and used it to make a policy determination that reflected his values, just as Mr. Obama is doing in lifting Mr. Bush's restrictions on stem cell research." Karl Rove said Monday, "Those who suggest that the Bush administration did not rigorously apply science are themselves ignoring the facts." Rove "called Mr. Obama's declaration on restoring scientific integrity 'simply hyperbole and hyperventilation.'" The Washington Post (3/10, Branigin, Stein) the New York Times (3/10, D1, Wade), the Wall Street Journal (3/10, Winslow, Naik), and the Los Angeles Times (3/10, Tankersley, Levey) also cover the story.

Category: Government

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