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Correction to This Article
The article misidentified the person from the think tank Third Way who said the policy "demonstrates President Obama's commitment to finding shared values on an issue that has long been divisive." The speaker was Rachel Laser.

Compromise Rules Issued on Embryonic Stem Cells

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with physician Deepak Srivastava, is briefed on stem cell research at the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with physician Deepak Srivastava, is briefed on stem cell research at the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. (By David Paul Morris -- Bloomberg News)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Obama administration issued guidelines yesterday limiting government-sponsored embryonic stem cell research to cells taken from excess fertility clinic embryos, a compromise based on its reading of public opinion about the cutting-edge science.

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The decision fell short of the open-ended policy some scientists and patient advocates had hoped for, but is far less likely to spark controversy. It also will mean that tax dollars could begin flowing as early as fall to projects involving hundreds of new stem cell clusters.

Raynard S. Kington, acting director of the National Institutes of Health, said yesterday that the administration was guided by "broad public support" in establishing a policy that prohibits creation of embryos for research purposes as well as any type of therapeutic cloning.

Specifically, NIH modeled its approach after legislation that twice passed Congress, he explained. Those votes are "the strongest indication of public support," he told reporters yesterday morning. "There is not similar broad support for using stem cells from other sources."

Ironically, one of the chief architects of that legislation, Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), said yesterday that although he was pleased by the NIH action, "there is opportunity for more expansive guidelines."

Some proponents of aggressive research policies expressed disappointment in President Obama, who stressed a month ago that science ought not be hampered by political considerations.

"I am really, really startled," said Susan L. Solomon, chief executive of the private New York Stem Cell Foundation. "This seems to be a political calculus when what we want in this country is a scientific research calculus."

Researchers have long touted the potential of embryonic stem cells in treating an array of illnesses because of their unique ability to morph into any tissue in the body. Scientists say the stem cells could eventually lead to therapies for Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and diabetes.

But the work has always been controversial because extracting clusters of stem cells requires destroying the embryo.

In August 2001, citing those ethical concerns, President George W. Bush announced that federally funded research would be limited to two dozen cell lines that had already been harvested.

Last month, surrounded by patient advocates and prominent scientists, Obama signed an executive order lifting the Bush restrictions.

But yesterday, one of the activists who had attended the Obama event complained bitterly that the process became "much more political than we thought it would be. This is extremely limiting," he said, asking that he not be identified criticizing the president.


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