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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan March 9, 2009

Obama signs executive order on stem cells

Editor's note: This is a promise we missed when we first created our database. We added it as promise No. 513 on March 9, 2009.

President Obama said during the presidential campaign that he would reverse the actions of President George W. Bush that limited the use of human embryonic stem cells in scientific research funded by the federal government.

"I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations," Obama wrote in response to a questionnaire from a consortium of scientific groups.

"As president, I will lift the current administration"s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001, through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight," he said.

Scientists want to use the cells to develop cures for conditions like Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries. The cells are derived from human embryos, which are destroyed when the cells are extracted. Critics equate that destruction with abortion. The embryos typically come from private fertility clinics, where they would likely have been destroyed anyway.

Obama signed an executive order on March 9, 2009, reversing two of Bush's policies on stem cell research. Bush's orders allowed research only on stem cell lines already in existence at the time of his order, or on stem cells not derived from embryos. Obama's order ends those restrictions.

This does not mean that federal funds may now go to unlimited research on human embryos. Federal law still bans federal funding for research in which scientists destroy human embryos. Under Obama's order, scientists may now study stem cell lines created by others, but they still may not create their own lines. In signing the order, Obama called on Congress to "act on a bipartisan basis to provide further support for this research."

Obama's promise was that he would reverse Bush's orders restricting stem cell research. (See Promise No. 514 for whether Obama makes sure the research is overseen with rigorous standards.) By signing the executive order, he specifically overturned the prior administration's policies. Promise Kept.

Our Sources

White House Web site, Executive order on stem cell research , March 9, 2009

White House Web site, Memorandum on scientific integrity , March 9, 2009

George W. Bush White House archive, Executive Order: Expanding Approved Stem Cell Lines in Ethically Responsible Ways , June 20, 2007 

St. Petersburg Times, Stem cells partition labs , July 5, 2007

Nova, The Politics of Stem Cells , April 13, 2005

St. Petersburg Times, In stem cell debate, truth lies between the slogans , Aug. 4, 2004

George W. Bush White House archive, President discusses stem cell research , Aug. 9, 2001

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