Topic A: Obama's Policy on Stem-Cell Research

Topic A
Tuesday, March 10, 2009; 12:00 AM

The Post asked experts to comment on President Obama's decision to remove restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Below are contributions from Ruth R. Faden and Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk.


Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

Resolutions to moral controversies in science require honest debate, and, in the end, political leaders must make decisions consonant with what they view as the most persuasive moral case. This is precisely what President Obama did; he was not choosing between sound science and moral values, he was choosing a course for science policy that comports with his moral values and those of most, but not all, Americans.

Obama has left the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the ethical standards that should govern the research, including what will be eligible for federal funding. Least controversial is research conducted on stem cell lines derived from stored embryos remaining after in vitro fertilization treatment is completed. More controversial is research with lines derived from embryos created specifically for research purposes, which scientists argue has tremendous potential to accelerate the pace of discovery. And only Congress can address what is perhaps the most controversial issue, the use of federal dollars to support the creation or destruction of human embryos, currently prohibited by law.

But Obama has now set the nation's moral course; embryonic stem cell research will go forward, with oversight to protect against such misuses as cloning for human reproduction. Those who believe that human embryos have the same moral status as the rest of us will and should continue to press their case. For most Americans, however, the president's policy strikes the right moral balance, reflecting the moral value we place on reducing human suffering and improving human health.


Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center

The decision to expand federal funding for this research is a kind of "blessing" that scientists have long been seeking, hoping it will clear up the dark ethical storm cloud that has hung over this work from its beginnings in 1998. From those earliest times, it has been clear that this research exploits younger humans, with lethal consequences, to address the needs of older and wealthier humans. The human embryo is being slowly transformed before our eyes into a commodity to be exploited, a kind of raw material to be utilized on the way to making a brilliant career as a scientist, or making profits as an entrepreneur, or making treatments for myself when I'm sick.

Asking the National Institutes of Health to develop "ethical guidelines" to govern these kinds of practices, as the president seems intent on doing, is no better than asking the fox to guard the henhouse. News sources suggest that, among other things, the NIH will engage in earnest discussions, with wrinkled forehead, in order to come up with rules and guidelines for parents to sign a few forms and hand over their embryonic children for destructive research. Promulgating such rules is akin to saying, "Go ahead and rob the bank -- we'll just pretend robbing banks is ethical by discussing procedural details such as sweeping up the broken glass as you make off with the money." No valid ethical consent of this kind can ever be obtained.

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