On Fox News Sunday yesterday, John Podesta, President-elect Barack Obama’s transition chief, said Obama would move swiftly to overturn a range of executive orders by President Bush, “whether that’s on energy transformation, on improving health care, on stem cell research.” Podesta explained, “I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country.”
Asked about it during today’s press briefing, Dana Perino defended Bush’s stem cell policy and insisted that Bush had never, in fact, banned stem cell research:
Unfortunately, the president’s position on stem cells has been misconstrued over the years, with the suggestion that President Bush put a ban on research for embryonic stem cell research. That is not true. … The President made a very important choice after a lot of careful deliberation.
It’s technically true that Bush did not ban stem cell research — he just strictly limited funding of it. Vetoing bipartisan legislation that even ardent pro-life conservative Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) supported, Bush arbitrarily limited funding to research of just 60 stem cell lines cultivated before Aug. 9, 2001. The number eventually shrank to a dismal 21 after some lines were found to have been contaminated or retrieved unethically. The limits make scientists’ work more difficult and less effective, and — since the thousands of embryos not implanted in women are eventually destroyed — don’t even save the embryos Bush considers to be “human life.”
Despite Perino’s attempt to blame the media for “misconstruing” Bush’s policy, even his own scientists agree that his research limits are profoundly harmful:
— Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Bush’s former Director of the National Institute of Health: “American science will be better served — and the nation will be better served — if we let our scientists have access to more cell lines that they can study with the different methods that have emerged since 2001.”
— Story Landis, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “We are missing out on possible breakthroughs,” she told Congress, adding that the ability to work on newly derived stem cell colonies — currently precluded from federal funding — “would be incredibly important.”
Perhaps if Bush got his ideas from scientists rather than science-fiction novels, American stem cell research would be on the path to curing diseases.