In 2006 and again in 2007, President Bush vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and overturned Bush’s 2001 executive order which restricted federal funding to embryos derived before August 9, 2001.
Bush originally justified his position by claiming there were “more than 60” stem cell lines for researchers to work with. In April 2007, the White House revised the number to 21 after it became known that “many if not all of the…lines are now contaminated and unusable” because they were developed using mouse cells.
But a recent decision by scientists at Stanford University suggests that the administration may have to re-edit its brief. According to Rick Weiss, a Senior Fellow at the Center For American Progress Action Fund, “an expert panel at Stanford University has determined that nearly one quarter of the colonies of human embryonic stem cells that the Bush administration has approved as ethically derived and eligible for study with federal funds ‘do not meet ethical thresholds that would allow them to be approved for use at Stanford and will no longer be available to researchers there“:
The decision is the first of what is expected to become a string of such moves following the publication in May of a little-noticed report by a University of Wisconsin professor who found serious ethics lapses in the way some of the Bush-approved cells were obtained from embryo donors.
Researchers have long argued that Bush’s executive order — which limits federal funding “not on the basis of whether those cells were obtained by ethical means but simply on the basis of when they were derived” — artificially constrains research and development. As Rick Weiss points out:
…it makes no ethical or scientific sense to base a policy on the timing of when cells were derived, as opposed to how they were derived. There have been many technical improvements, he noted, that make more recently derived cells more scientifically useful. In addition, newer lines have largely been derived with the benefit of new ethics guidelines that in recent years have been promulgated by the National Academies and other groups.
Unfortunately, “Bush’s policy is getting in the way of us doing it better, scientifically and ethically.”