John Kerry Disagrees With Clinton Policy on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 30, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

John Kerry Disagrees With Clinton Policy on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 30, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Newly-minted Democratic nominee John Kerry is using the issue of embryonic stem cell research to bash President Bush and claim his policy against taxpayer funding of the unproven research is out of touch with most Americans. However, Kerry’s stance is at odds with policy during most of the Bill Clinton administration.

According to Clinton’s director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Harold Varmus, there was a moratorium in place from 1978 to 1993 on any embryonic research, a Washington Times article reports.

In 1993, according to Varmus, Congress, then controlled by the Democrats, created a policy that apparently allowed the use of taxpayer funds for research on human embryos. Varmus was so excited about the possibility, that he established an NIH panel to explore how to use the funds.

However, in 1994, Republicans rode a tidal wave of anti-Clinton backlash and took over control of Congress.

After the elections, Clinton signed an executive order, Varmus tells the Times, that essentially stopped any taxpayer funding of research that destroys human embryos.

In fact, Clinton signed federal budgets from 1996 through 2000 that prohibited federal funding of "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death."

In 1999, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission issued a much-criticized opinion that the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research was ethically permissible.

However, the Clinton administration’s policy didn’t change. Varmus tells the Times that the "White House explained that no legal action was necessary because human embryonic stem cells would be available from the private sector."

Then, in 2000, after taking a position for six years against taxpayer funding of the destructive research and after Al Gore received the Democratic nomination for president, Clinton flip-flopped. He announced his support for new federal guidelines allowing taxpayer funding.

In fact, the Clinton administration issued guidelines "filled with detailed instructions on how researchers can evade the law President Clinton just renewed," Rich Doerflinger, an ethicist with the U.S Conference on Catholic Bishops, wrote at the time.

Despite the flip-flop, Clinton again signed a federal spending bill, in December 2000, with the same anti-funding provision contained in it.

Though Clinton eventually switched positions on the issue, for most of his administration, he had a policy in place that prohibited taxpayer-funding of embryonic stem cell research. He also signed five bills with a provision prohibiting federal funding.

Yet, that’s a policy John Kerry doesn’t support.

After his election as president, in August 2001, President Bush issued an executive order prohibiting federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research conducted after that point.

The Washington Times hails Bush for the decision.

"Whatever one’s opinion of Mr. Bush’s record on stem cells, he has incontestably shown leadership on the issue. After agonizing over the issue, Mr. Bush enunciated his choice … and has since stuck with it," the paper wrote in a recent editorial.