Obama on stem-cell policy

OBAMA ON STEM-CELL POLICY…. The headline on the Politico homepage might give readers the wrong idea: “Obama may not lift stem cell limits.” Since Obama made clear throughout the campaign that he would reverse Bush’s restrictions on stem-cell research, this sounded rather alarming.

What Obama actually indicated is that he’d lift Bush’s limits on the research, but by signing bipartisan legislation passed by Congress, rather than using an executive order.

“Well, if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people’s representatives,” Obama said in a CNN interview. “And I think that on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have a bipartisan support around that issue, the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s can actually find potentially some hope out there, you know, I think that sends a powerful message.

“So we’re still examining what things we’ll do through executive order,” Obama continued. “But I like the idea of the American people’s representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.”

On a philosophical level, this approach is not without merit. If there’s large, bipartisan majorities in both chambers in support of a policy like this, then it makes sense for a president to make the change through the legislative process. It brings added legitimacy, and a broader buy-in.

But on a practical level, we can only hope Congress moves quickly. The scientific community is fired up and ready to go, waiting for Bush’s restrictions to finally end. Terry Devitt, the director of research communications for the University of Wisconsin, which runs the U.W. Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, recently said, “The [Bush] policy has set research back five to six to seven years in this country.”

Congress should have no trouble passing the DeGette/Castle bill that Bush vetoed twice. The sooner they get the bill to Obama’s desk, the better.