By Donald Zuhn --
The New York Times reported late last week that President Obama will satisfy one of his campaign pledges on Monday when he reverses limits imposed by the Bush administration on embryonic stem cell research. In August of 2001, the Bush administration ordered that federal research be limited to lines of cells that were already in existence at the time. President Obama is expected to allow federal research on not only stem cell lines already in existence, but stem cell lines that have yet to be created. In addition, the President will be asking the National Institutes of Health to come up with new stem cell research guidelines within 120 days of the announcement.
Accompanying the President for the announcement, which is scheduled to take place at 11:45 am (Eastern) in the White House, will be a number of Democratic and Republican legislators who support the reversal. Among the lawmakers who have been invited to attend the announcement are Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Representatives Michael Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). According to the Times, President Obama will also take the opportunity to speak about a return to "sound science" during his administration, fulfilling a campaign promise to separate politics and science.
In an additional report in today's edition of the Times, officials in the Obama administration noted that the President would be looking -- but perhaps not expressly asking -- for some cooperation from Congress with respect to its own stem cell ban. In particular, the President would like Congress to overturn the Dickey-Wicker amendment, first passed in 1996, which prohibits the use of tax dollars to create human embryos or to conduct research in which embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury.
Congress has already begun work on the stem cell issue with the introduction last month of three bills in the House (H.R. 872 and H.R. 873) and Senate (S. 487). The bills would amend the Public Health Service Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct and support research that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo. The two House bills, which were sponsored by Rep. DeGette and co-sponsored by Rep. Castle, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Lois Capps (D-CA), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Charles Dent (R-PA), Gene Green (D-TX), Mark Kirk (R-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), and Fred Upton (R-MI), differ in that H.R. 872 also directs the National Institutes of Health to issue guidelines for such stem cell research. The Senate bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Harkin and co-sponsored by Sen. Feinstein, Hatch, Kennedy, Specter, Harry Reid (D-NV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), is similar to H.R. 873. Similar bills were passed by both the House and Senate in 2007, only to be vetoed by then-President Bush. At a press conference to announce the introduction of the Senate bill, Sen. Specter said the legislation was needed so that "this important policy change . . . does not ping-pong back and forth with each successive President."