Obama’s stem cell switch another setback for U.S. conservatives

March 9, 2009

It’s another day in the life of the busy Obama administration.  In this case, it means another day of despair for America’s social and religious conservatives.


President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe further scientific investigations could lead to breakthrough treatments for many diseases. You can see our report here.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, Obama has also lifted a ban on funding for overseas groups or clinics that provide or counsel on abortion services, rescinded a Bush administration rule to protect health workers who refuse to provide services and information on moral grounds, and publicly backed the constitutional separation between church and state which he said America’s founding fathers “wisely drew.”

This is a sharp departure from his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose eight years in office represented a challenge to the country’s liberals. Now it’s conservative Christians, who comprise a key base for the opposition Republican Party, who find themselves in a dilemma.

Religious and social conservatives oppose embryonic stem cell research because it involves destruction of human embryos.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, a leading member of the Republican Party’s conservative Christian wing,  summed up this view in a statement: “If an embryo is a life, and I believe strongly that it is life, then no government has the right to sanction their destruction for research purposes.”

Obama also signed a presidential memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for “restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.”

Some scientists accused Bush of sacrificing scientific research and subverting scientific findings to appease his conservative political and religious base, not only on stem cells but on climate change policy, energy and reproductive and end of life issues 

If you tune into conservative Christian radio stations or read press releases and blogs from groups such as the Family Research Council, it’s clear that the “Religious Right” sees more gloom and liberal doom on the horizon.

As Obama moves to unravel the Bush legacy on social and scientific policies, they are likely to have more sleepless nights over the next four years.

(Photo: A human embryonic stem cell line derived at Stanford University is seen in this handout photo REUTERS/Julie Baker/Stanford University School of Medicine/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine/Handout, March 9, 2009)


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liberalism in america is a religion, and abortion is its primary sacrament; as baby bommers’ economic and moral rapacity steal wealth from their great-grandchildren, it should come as no surprise that they wish their bodies as well

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

separation of church and state, this is how it always should be. more good news for the progress of all humanity.

Posted by james | Report as abusive

The pendulum has swung the other way. T’is the nature of democracy.

The position of the right-to-lifers would be more sincere if they also espoused the right to life of every living thing. However, a position based on an interpretation of a religious text, making the assumption that one knows the will of the Deity, is HIGHLY suspect.

There are sects here in Colorado (USA) who’s religious beliefs demand that they only perform faith healing. Which is IMHO, silly. The Deity said no such thing. Children have died and parents have been prosecuted because of this interpretation of a wisdom tradition.

The Obama administration is applying a correction to a policy that originated for the wrong reasons. As citizens, we can’t allow the national reasoning to be clouded with religious dogma. The Middle East has provided many an object lesson as to why. We must do things that advance our interests and the interests of humanity, and make decisions from a basis of knowledge rather than from one of belief.

While we’ve squandered years here in the US with a useless policy, other nations have left us in the dust with respect to this research. High time to catch up!

Posted by Al Reaud | Report as abusive

Stem Cell research does not always start with the death of a fetus.As a last resort this avenue should be used.
It was wrong to have the government limit this research.
I, for one , am happy to see the USA back in stem cell research for the benefit of mankind.

Posted by Chris Michael | Report as abusive

hey james–progress at whose expense? An embryo is not animal life, vegetable life nor mineral life. Its HUMAN-LIFE–it is alive–correct?. Its ‘you’ at the beginning of your life. To destroy early human life for any reason – no matter how noble the cause is nothing more than the equivalent of killing the infirm, or prisoners so you can take out their organs to transplant into those who need them. This isn’t progress, and Obama is a faux Christian–he calls himself “devout’–HA – in a pigs eye. And frankly since those on either side of this debate do not accept each others assertions about when life begins (obvious as it is) the ethical thing to do is to assume it starts at conception– because if you assume the opposite you run the risk of committing murder if you are wrong.One should always err on the side of caution in such disputes.

If that embryo that was you at your earliest was used for research you would not be here today.

Posted by pd | Report as abusive

I value the strong ethical concerns voiced by those opposed to the changes proposed by President Obama However, they need to consider how important it is for the government to remain neutral in what is essentially a religious issue. To state categorically, as they do, that this is objectively wrong denigrates the equally sincere beliefs of other religious individuals who disagree with their position.
There is nothing wrong with them voicing their opinion but they need to refrain from demonizing the opposition. Sooner or later they will understand the benefits of the government staying out of the religious arena.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

In my opinion, the outrage people feel over the destruction of embryos is sadly misplaced. These cells will never see the inside of a woman’s uterus anyway — it is NOT the same as cutting a living human being up for their organs! Furthermore, human lives are destroyed EVERY SINGLE DAY by the diseases and injuries this research could help. It is absurd to protest for the rights of cells without a care for the living people who need medical help.

Posted by Charlotte | Report as abusive

Jim says, “they need to consider how important it is for the government to remain neutral in what is essentially a religious issue. To state categorically, as they do, that this is objectively wrong denigrates the equally sincere beliefs of other religious individuals who disagree with their position.”

Well said… and it could also have been said about Nazi experiments on Jews or about the need to stone misbehaving women to death in some societies.

Something identifiable as being objectively wrong? How could this be in the Age of Relativism?

Posted by Henry Ruger | Report as abusive

When are the religious right going to get all of their ducks in a row instead of playing the “I like this rule but don’t like that one” game? If they truely believe in life at conception, then why aren’t they going after the fertility clinics who throw away those same stem cells? Aren’t they murderers in their eyes too? Why do they “permit” fertility clinics at all?Seems to me that qualifies as tampering with the Devine. Reminds me of PETA…go after the zoos, etc. for keeping wild animals. well fed and cared for but let the dog fights and pet stealing rings (“Stolen for Profit”) who sell animals as a comodity, continue unfettered.

This country was founded on separation of chuch and state and it’s about time we went back to the basics that made us great.

Posted by J Lang | Report as abusive

This is not a religious issue, it’s a human rights issue. Though intentions may be “good”, we are making and killing HUMAN LIFE. This could be the start of a dangerous new age way of thinking and a disregard for life itself. The bottom line is that it’s NOT right. What’s the next thing to come for the next generation? Genetically cloning human specimens for war?

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

This is great news. As a stem cell researcher, I am personally aware of how damaging the Bush administrations rules are, and just how ridiculous it is to label an embryonic stem cell as a human life. If you want to go that far, then you might as well consider your left thumb a potential human life. It’s time for majority rules, minority rights. The majority of Americans are for this research, and the minority have the right to refuse treatments from stem cells when they become available. If they complain about using tax dollars to fund it, I would remind them that some of us have sent our tax dollars to pay for the Iraq war while personally reviling that conflict. That is the price of democracy.

Posted by Jen C | Report as abusive

The idea of the government being neutral is a myth. If position A: “It is human life and the government must protect it” is a “religous” position, then so is position B: “It is not a human life and thus is not to be protected,” and C: “It is human life but can be sacrificed for the good of others.” Every position reflects someone’s religous view of the world. When the president says he will not let idealogy get in the way of science, that is scary. What he has said is that whatever we can scientificaly, we will do it… we will not let any idealogy/ethics stand in the way. The President’s position is not a neutral position.

Posted by Danny Holman | Report as abusive

Just something to consider: what President Bush opposed was the funding for stem cell research with federal funds. As those funds i.e., taxes, are from those in both the conservative and liberal camps, it made sense. What he (nor any other segment of our government) did not do was make a law against stem cell research. And in fact, stem cell research is going on as we speak, just not with federal funds. Now if this were the Holy Grail for every medical malady for which we do not currently have a cure, would it not make sense then that some pharmaceutical company, etc, looking to make incredible amounts of money would not have jumped on the bandwagon already??

Posted by Karen V | Report as abusive

Putting the issue of religion aside, these embryos are going to be killed anyway, and it’s better for the human race to benefit from the event of abortion than to not benefit. I am sure opponents of abortion and stem-cell research will say that that isn’t true, but it’s not like women will go and have abortions just so they can provide enbryos for stem-cell research.

So… this is tied in with the abortion debate.
1) There are too many humans already
2) I think it is better to destroy a “life” that has no senses, has no mind, has no body, and is just a collection of cells*, than to ruin the lives of two fully grown people and bring up a child in a bad situation

* and if you say it’s more than that BECAUSE it is “human” then really you’re making the argument religious/spiritual by suggesting that there is a soul involved… and you can’t expect the government to take that into account. Seperation of church and state.

Posted by Mez | Report as abusive

Human embryos are the precursor to humans. Until it has developed enough to sustain life outside the mother, it is no more a human than any other cells in the body.

As for a “new age” way of thinking and a disregard for life.. you really should look at the psychopathic mindset of those on the conservative, anti-abortion (pro-enslaving women) right. Their first, and only, choice for foreign policy is war, their total disregard for children’s health; why is it they are the party of life, but only life between conception and birth; and after birth they’re the party of death?

Posted by A Rogers | Report as abusive

This is not essentially as religious issue, Jim. One can certainly see that it is possible for an atheist scientist or layman to rationally think it through, come to the conclusion that it may not be provable either way to anyones satisfaction, and therefore take the position that the ethical thing to do is to exercise restraint on so as not to be guilty of killing human beings. I thought this matter through in relation to the abortion debate going on in the 70’s –I was 16 years old then, I was not a Christian, and I came to the conclusion that one MUST err on the side of restraint and not destroy a fertilized egg as it was certainly possible that it was a human being.

Posted by pd | Report as abusive

Yeah, wait until one of these religious right people get a horrible disease like Alzheimer’s, or something even more hideous… I bet they’ll be begging for a stem-cell treatment then!!

Do you people really believe we should ignore science and spend the rest of our lives in the dark ages b/c of some silly ideology??
Thank God Obama could fearlessly stand up for what is right, for the destiny of human beings to progress, why God put us here, and sign that bill !!!
Thank you Obama !!
May our future be filled with the wonders of science, one of the greatest and MOST precious GOD-GIVEN aspects of the human race.
God did not give us such wondrous talents to be controlled by people who do not even understand the workings of God, or the inner workings of their own selves.

Posted by Robert Rozier | Report as abusive

To Al Reaud: I clicked on your link and see that you have a blog that decries the horrible abuse of animals, skinning them for fur etc. But you are ready to combine a human egg and human sperm which creates a human life and then pick that life apart and dissect it and suck out the contents to inject in someones heart or liver to see if it will grow new cells there. I can never understand how people put animals life above human life.

I wonder if a scientists are combining a woman’s egg with a man’s sperm in the same petri dish, witnessing the creation of human life there, then taking out one embryo and putting it under the microscope to use in an experiment, and the next day choosing another embryo and putting it in a woman who wants a baby.

Sophie’s Choice. Difference is Sophie had a conscience.

Posted by pd | Report as abusive

We should be absolutely consistent. No abortions unless a womans life is endangered by the child— no throwing away embryos and no using them to experiment on. Before you call me names I was raped and subsequently made the decision to give birth to and keep a child should I become pregnant. We need to stop playing God, stop cheapening human life. Already we discard poor people like trash on streets to live like animals–even very mentally ill people who have no place to go, stick elderly relatives in nursing homes for our convenience, and get rid of children in the womb because we aren’t ready to rear them (but we were ready to do the act that creates them–just don’t want to take responsibility for the consequences or give up 9 months to bear them and adopt them out). Our society is seeing the dehumanizing of human beings on greater and greater scale as time goes on–this is one more step in that direction–the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, the sickest etc. are expendable. And the categories of ‘expendable’ people multiply as times marches on.

Posted by del | Report as abusive

It may be interesting to study the impact that policy changes in Washington impact inter-religious relations and work between conservative and liberal people of faith. The Rev. Dr. Paul Sorrentino recently wrote a wonderful article on the topic of why religious practitioners of different political orientations should still engage in dialogue with each other. I highly recommend checking it out at:

http://irdialogue.org/articles/in-politi cs-articles/why-conservative-believers-s hould-be-involved-with-inter-religious-d ialogue-by-paul-sorrentino/

Posted by Josh Stanton | Report as abusive

Separation of church and state came from Thomas Jefferson. The USA was not “founded” upon church and state. Freedom from state religion is just one of the many great principles that this country was built upon. The law that came out of that were written to protect the church from the state and allow for freedom of religion. It is a great concept.

That being said, to use this as the final word in an argument is neither logical nor fair. Many decisions for scientific research will bring about moral choices that need to be made. Each company, research group, and lab scientist will have to make moral choices. They will do that based upon their morality. They should listen to what the government recommends and follow it’s laws and use their morality (or religion) to to what they think is right. As I read bioethics, I realize i have much to learn about all of this. If I cannot be influenced by either the church and the state; or only one or the other, where should I turn for good information?

I believe to say that state and church should not discuss these matters can lead to great loss in the advancement of what’s best for all people. So I would recommend keeping the conversation going instead of claiming “separation of church & state” as some kind of wild card or conversation stopper.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive

why are undereducated people (e.g. religious/cult/anarchist/nouveau activist types) science phobic? why is it even remotely possible for people who not only have no concept of the general science, yet less, no concept of the specific science be allowed to make policy on it? that would be like having a whaler making decisions on how to farm. any belief system is dangerous if it doesn’t allow you to make educated decisions. if you’re not educated, then you’re just guessing, aren’t you?

Posted by victor | Report as abusive

I am VERY thankful to see our new administration making decisions based on science needs as oppossed to the so-called needs of the religious reich. For too long our great country has cowered down and took orders from these religious extremists who in my and many others opinion are as bad as hitler and the extremist muslums. THAT is what our world is facing…extremism from ALL the religios sects. They murder and kill in the name of their god and have since time began. That includes christians, who try to act innocent of blood on their hands. They stand in the streets and yell about OTHER people shedding blood, and try to hide the fact that they have shed more blood than ANYONE…thewy even hung their own god on a cross,,,hahahaha…

Posted by iloveallofyawl | Report as abusive

Christians have long been opponents of rational scientific thought. Look at the ‘Dark Ages,’ supression of discovery, science and rational thought by the Catholic Church for 1000 years. The Protestants did no better. Fanatical Christians in the US want a theocracy devoid of scientific discovery where they can force others to accept their ‘faith’ as science. The earth is flat, not more than 6000 years old, was ‘created’ in 7 days and an ongoing long list of irrational and irrelevant thought. In their world, embryos are people too and should not be ‘killed’… no human life should be taken, unless it is the death penalty or war, then suddenly killing becomes ok. hypocrites as always… ‘Christians’ have killed more people in the name of their religion than Hitler and Stalin combined. Christ must be rolling in his grave, or heaven or wherever you all believe he is.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

We the “uneducated” of America, voice our opinions because we believe in the sanctifcation of life. If all these atheists want to bash us on the premise of scientific fact, try it. It won’t work. You claim no God, or you try to play his role by doing things like cloning. If you’re so certain of your evolutionist theories and you claim life has been evolving over millions of years, then why is there still war, famine, disease. If we are evolving then we should have improved our way of living by now, but you just make things worse by trying to take control of life without realizing the consequences that you will eventually face.

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive

i argue with the concept of faith-holders having a “sanctification of life.” if this were true, all religions would preach vegetarianism, dissent all wars and abolish the death penalty. but they don’t. religions promote wars via ideological differences with the intent on either converting the unfaithful or erasing them from the planet. this does not demonstrate a sanctification of life.

the reason humans have not evolved beyond territorial battles, faith-based battles, from beyond killing animals for sustenance, alleviated famine and disease is 100% due to improper education and a faith-based belief system where uneducated people are making decisions. let’s just take the example of galileo galilei who was put under house arrest for his controversial beliefs that conflicted with the church and were later proved to be true and accepted by the entire world. the uneducated church stopped progress. let me repeat, the CHURCH stopped progress. this is just one example from the 1600’s that demonstrates that faith inhibits intellectual growth. we have 400 more years on top of that and several thousand before that with similar examples. unfortuantely, there isn’t enough memory on this server (nor time in my life) to post them all.

the last comment i want to make directly addresses the statement, “[…] but you just make things worse by trying to take control of life without realizing the consequences that you will eventually face.”

that is completely irrational fear speaking. where is your information that things are getting worse? who is trying to take control? what are the consequences? are the consequences a judgment from some god for keeping people from dying prematurely? from saving people with dehabilitating diseases? are you telling me that some god gave us minds, creativity and the ability to treat disease only NOT to do so? this is about as contrary to a supposed sanctification of life as it can get…

Posted by victor | Report as abusive

A faith based educational system? Yeah,..that teaches evolution, the big bang theory, that we evolved from monkeys? How is that faith based? So many people try to say that we are forcing are belief systems upon them, but what about evolutionists? Evolution is not a proven fact. I remember looking at the pictures of evolution from monkeys when I was young in science books and I noticed that the pictures showing the change from that time period with those monkeys having human feet. Why is that? To try to get me to believe something that Darwin himself said would be false when it came to the arguement of sub-species. When it comes to these wars, you cannot always blame it on religion. What about greed or just power? There are millions of christians and muslims in the world who don’t believe in war. That is what I meant when I talked about sancitfiying life. Even the bible says that on that day many will cry Lord, Lord and he tells them he didn’t know them. You can’t say we cause all the problems if there are so many of us against those things. On things getting worse…..How are they getting better? Because you cannot tell me they are. You’re right, God did give us minds to help prevent disease. My personal belief is that an embryo is life. But what about abortion? God surely didn’t give us the right to kill children who didn’t deserve it. I’m not talking about rape victims, I’m talking about those people who just don’t want the responsibility of a child. Once you give that person the right to abort, then it makes it ok for everyone and that’s not right.

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive