Obama Embryonic Stem Cell Research Order Complies With Federal Law, For Now

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 16, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Obama Embryonic Stem Cell Research Order Complies With Federal Law, For Now

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
March 16
, 2009

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Last week, President Barack Obama overturned the limits that prevent taxpayers from being forced to pay for embryonic stem cell research. A White House official says Obama’s order, for now, complies with a pro-life federal law that prohibits creating and destroying human embryos for research.

Obama’s order allows funding of embryonic stem cell research conducted using so-called "leftover" human embryos from fertility clinics.

A federal law, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, that was adopted in the 1990s prevents funding of the purposeful creation and destruction of human embryos for research purposes.

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.

A White House official told CNSNews that the Obama order complies with that law — but embryonic stem cell research proponents in Congress want to overturn it. The amendment was renewed in the omnibus spending bill Obama just signed.

“They should develop guidelines to pursue stem cell research in compliance with federal law, meaning Dickey-Wicker,” the White House official told CNS news about what the NIH will do to implement the Obama order.

“Dickey-Wicker does not speak to stem cell research,” the White House official said. “It speaks to the creation and destruction of embryos. It was drafted before stem cell research even existed. So what the executive order says is that NIH will develop guidelines for stem cell research proceedings [for] folks who use federal money for stem cell research.”

“You still can’t create or destroy an embryo with federal funding,” the White House official added.

The unnamed Obama representative told the news web site that the president hasn’t yet taken a position on whether Dickey-Wicker should be overturned.

“We have not discussed repealing Dickey-Wicker or anything like that,” the official said. “As long as it is law, federal funding cannot be used for the creation or destruction of embryos.”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, told CNS News that the official’s interpretation of the federal law is too narrow.

“It does not merely say you can’t use federal funds to kill an embryo, it’s much broader than that,” Johnson told CNSNews. “It says the federal government can’t fund research in which embryos are harmed. We should interpret that to mean the federal government can’t fund any research project if that project involves or requires harm to human embryos.”

Johnson said NIH must follow the law to the letter.

Congress will likely consider a bill sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, that will target the amendment.

But first, the House and Senate are slated to consider bills to make Obama’s executive order national law. 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.

Johnson told LifeNews.com that Obama’s order "sets the stage for an attack on the Dickey-Wicker law."

"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," he said.

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