WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will lift his predecessor’s restriction on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research today and will give the National Institutes of Health four months to come up with new rules on the issue, officials said yesterday.
Obama will not lay out guidelines himself but will let the NIH decide when it is ethical and legal to pay for embryonic stem cell research, science adviser Dr. Harold Varmus said. Researchers and advocates have been invited to a White House ceremony at which Obama will make the announcement, said Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s domestic policy council. He will also sign a pledge to “restore scientific integrity in governmental decision making,” Barnes said.
“He believes that by signing them he’s going to continue to fulfill the promises that he made over the 20-plus months on the campaign,” Barnes told reporters in a conference call.
“And the president believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of achieving a broad range of national goals.”
Former President George W. Bush was accused by scientists and politicians of injecting politics and sometimes religion into scientific decisions regarding not only stem cells, but climate change policy, energy policy and contraceptive policy. Barnes said scrapping the restriction on federal funding imposed by Bush would help to create jobs and strengthen national security.
Varmus said Obama will give the NIH 120 days come up with a framework to govern the use of federal funds to work with human embryonic stem cells.
A law called the Dickey Amendment limits the use of federal money to actually make the powerful stem cells, because they must be taken from human embryos. So federal research money can currently be used only to work with cells that were made using other sources of funds.
“The president, in effect, is allowing federal funding on human embryonic stem cells research to the extent that is allowed by law,” said Varmus, a former NIH director who is also president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and an adviser to Obama.