Sunday, March 8, 2009

Science is Back!

President Obama plans to sign an executive order on Monday overturning the Bush administration restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research. The White House sent out an e-mail yesterday saying it was planning a ceremony "on stem cells and restoring scientific integrity to the government process. At the event the president will sign an executive order related to stem cells."

The move will spark delight among scientists who have long campaigned for the Bush policy to be overturned, but will likely be condemned by conservative right-to-life groups. Obama spelled out his campaign policy on stem-cell research last August in a list of answers to the Science Debate 2008 scientific lobby group.

"I strongly support expanding research on stem cells," Obama wrote. "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."

Reports about Obama's plans were immediately condemned by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "Today's news that President Obama will open the door to direct taxpayer funds for embryonic stem-cell research that encourages the destruction of human embryos is a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life," Perkins said.

Bush barred federal funding from supporting work on new lines of stem cells derived from human embryos in 2001, allowing research only on a small number of embryonic stem-cell lines which existed at that time. He also several times vetoed legislation passed by Congress backing the research, which advocates say could help find a cure to diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's. Bush argued that using human embryos for scientific research-- which often involves their destruction -- crossed a moral barrier and urged scientists to consider other alternatives. Embryonic stem cells are primitive cells from early-stage embryos capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body.

Yesterday, the Health and Human Services Department moved to rescind a controversial rule, made final just before Obama took office, that would allow health care workers to invoke their consciences in refusing to provide health services or information to patients. This was strongly opposed by abortion rights activists. Critics and HHS staff have said the wording of the Bush "conscience" rule was vague enough to let health professionals invoke the conscience clause to deny patients contraceptives, family planning advice, and even vaccines and blood transfusions.

The Right is always citing the decline of American society as it pushes for backward-thinking legislation like that which Obama is now undoing. But history shows that wars against science and reason are symptomatic of societies in decline, not remedies against societies ills.

All I have to say... Hallelujah- science is back!

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