Congress May Fight Battle Over Embryo Research After Obama Stem Cell Order

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 9, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Congress May Fight Battle Over Embryo Research After Obama Stem Cell Order

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 9
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — The executive order President Barack Obama signed today to allow federal taxpayer funding of new embryonic stem cell research isn’t the end of the debate. Congress will engage in battles over authorizing funding and will attempt to overturn longstanding protections on embryo research.

The House and Senate will both likely consider bills to make Obama’s executive order national law and doing so makes it more difficult for a future pro-life president to reverse Obama’s actions.

Instead of issuing a subsequent executive order, a future pro-life president would be forced to rely on Congress to approve a bill putting the Bush protections back in place. With a Congress strongly in favor of embryonic stem cell research funding, that appears unlikely.

Meanwhile, Congress may also consider a bill sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, that will target a pro-life law known as Dickey-Wicker.

When the Clinton administration announced plans to fund destructive experiments on live human embryos, the National Institutes of Health announced its plans for funding such research in December 1994.

But pro-life Republican congressmen Jay Dickey and Roger Wicker introduced an amendment to the annual health appropriations bill to prevent this funding – – an amendment approved by Congress in 1995 and every year since.

In 1997, the language was strengthened to ensure that federal funds cannot be used to clone human embryos by the method recently used to produce Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal that ultimately had to be euthanized because of problems.

The law is important because while researchers can obtain federal funds under the Obama order, they still can’t use those funds to create their own embryonic stem cells.

But DeGette wants to overturn the law and has been talking with White House officials about ditching the amendment.

“Dickey-Wicker is 13 years old now, and I think we need to review these policies,” she told the New York Times.

She indicated support for her bill could come from an unlikely source.

“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," she said.

Melody Barnes, Obama’s chief domestic policy adviser, told the New York Times on Sunday that Obama has not taken a position on DeGette’s bill.

Pro-life advocates will fight DeGette’s move to kill more than just so-called leftover human embryos for research.

“I don’t think it will fly because the movement in the country is in favor of life,” Rep, Chris Smith of New Jersey says. "“For Congress to say that the new guinea pig will be human embryos, most Americans will find that highly offensive.”

Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee, also talked with about the impending battle.

"This sets the stage for an attack on the Dickey-Wicker law," he says. "Any member of Congress who votes for legislation to repeal this law is voting to allow federal funding of human embryo farms, created through the use of human cloning."

The Dickey-Wicker law prohibits the creation of embryos for the purpose of research as well as any research that harms an embryo, a unique human being after conception.

The provision also prohibits federal funds from being used for the intentional creation of embryos by IVF, cloning, or by any other means, for the purpose of their destruction and use in scientific experimentation.

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