Editor’s note: For a Q&A about stem cell research click here .
WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama renewed a ban on federal funding of research that harms human embryos only two days after issuing an executive order that lifted a prohibition on government grants for destructive embryonic stem cell research.
Meanwhile, Concerned Women for America (CWA) confirmed March 17 that leaders of some pro-life organizations are scheduled to meet soon with a representative of the Obama administration to discuss reducing the number of abortions in the United States.
The March 11 maintenance of the embryo research funding ban, first reported by CNSNews.com, occurred as a result of the president signing into law a $410 billion omnibus spending bill that funds the operation of several federal agencies through September. Included in the appropriations measure was funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The ban, known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, has been a part of HHS spending legislation since 1996. Named after its sponsors, former Republican Reps. Jay Dickey of Arkansas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the measure prohibits federal funds from being used for the creation of human embryos for research as well as for experimentation in which the health or life of embryos is threatened or destroyed.
Though the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is viable through the end of this fiscal year, its existence and effectiveness were brought into question after Obama signed his order on embryonic stem cell research March 9. The new order lifted a ban on funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. It rescinded a policy instituted by President Bush in August 2001. Bush permitted, however, grants for experiments on stem cell lines, or colonies, already in existence.
The challenge to Dickey-Wicker may come from two directions: the Obama administration’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Congress.
NIH, which was tasked by Obama with issuing guidelines within 120 days on funding embryonic stem cell research, may try to circumvent Dickey-Wicker, embryonic stem cell research foes fear. Cloning for research purposes even could be in the mix, some say.
“As long as they did the creation of the clone with private funds and killed them with private funds, NIH could probably fund the embryonic stem cells from the clone or from the hybrid, because that’s the basic interpretation now of what this new presidential executive order says,” bioethicist David Prentice told Baptist Press. Prentice is senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council (FRC). “There are no sorts of restrictions on when the embryo was made, where it was made, how it was made.”
Before Bush took office, the Clinton administration drew up guidelines in 2000 that would have permitted embryonic stem cell research funding as long as the stem cells were derived — and the embryo destroyed — using private money. Opponents of the Clinton guidelines said such a policy would violate at least the spirit of Dickey-Wicker and would encourage embryo destruction in order to receive federal grants. The Bush administration blocked the Clinton guidelines, however, leading to Bush’s new policy.
Congress not only is expected to pass legislation in support of Obama’s stem cell order, with the president’s encouragement, but there may be a move to pass a bill striking down Dickey-Wicker.
Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado is the lead Democratic sponsor of legislation to turn the Obama order into law, and she is promoting congressional action to rescind Dickey-Wicker.
“Dickey-Wicker is 13 years old now, and I think we need to review these policies,” DeGette told The New York Times. “I’ve already talked to several pro-life Democrats about Dickey-Wicker, and they seemed open to the concept of reversing the policy if we could show that it was necessary to foster this research.”
Overturning the Dickey-Wicker Amendment “would be difficult, but not impossible,” said an unidentified aide to House Democratic leadership, according to The Times. “It’s not something that we would do right away, but it’s something that we would look at.”
Stem cells provide hope for producing cures for a variety of diseases, because of their ability to develop into other cells and tissues. However, embryonic stem cell research has been a failure to date while adult stem cell research as well as similar non-destructive procedures have resulted in a host of treatments.
Many scientists have promoted embryonic stem cell research, because stem cells from embryos are pluripotent, meaning they can transform into any cell or tissue in the body. Extracting stem cells from an embryo, however, destroys it. Embryonic stem cell research has yet to provide any treatments for human beings.
Human trials using stem cells from non-embryonic sources have produced therapies for at least 73 ailments in human beings, despite the fact such cells are not considered pluripotent, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Extracting these so-called adult stem cells is harmless. In addition, scientists have discovered in the last 16 months ways of converting adult cells into cells that have nearly the identical properties of embryonic ones. Such cells are labeled induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
CWA President Wendy Wright and representatives of three other pro-life organizations will participate in a White House meeting March 24 with Joshua DuBois, the executive director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wright sought a meeting with DuBois after the White House announced the faith-based office’s priorities would include abortion reduction.
“We want to be sure as policies are being formulated that they take into consideration the kinds of principles and programs that have a track record of being effective” in reducing abortions, Wright told Baptist Press.
Wright invited representatives of the Family Research Council, Christian Medical Association, and CareNet, which supports more than 1,100 pregnancy centers, to attend the meeting with her. Wright said she expects they also will discuss fatherhood issues, another priority of the faith-based office.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, with reporting by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.