New Stem Cell Guidelines Disappoint Both Scientists and Religious Conservatives

Dan Gilgoff at U. S. News & World Report gives a good summary of the recently released National Institutes of Health guidelines on federal funding for stem cell research.  Many Christians will still disagree with the policy, but the results could have been much worse.  Fortunately, therapeutic cloning and the creation of embryos for research is still forbidden.

In issuing draft guidelines on federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research Friday, the National Institutes of Health let down a lot of scientists and patient advocates. That’s because the guidelines limited funding to embryos that were left over from in vitro fertilization clinics and were already earmarked for destruction.

Announcing his executive order on embryonic stem cell research last month, President Obama conspicuously left the door open to funding research using stem cells derived through embryos created expressly for scientific research or through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, popularly known as therapeutic cloning. But the draft NIH guidelines explicitly outlaw federal dollars for stem cells derived through either of those methods.

“I am really, really startled,” Susan L. Solomon, chief executive of the private New York Stem Cell Foundation, told the Washington Post after the NIH rules were issued. “This seems to be a political calculus when what we want in this country is a scientific research calculus.” The Post quoted a second, unnamed scientist who was present when Obama signed the stem cell executive order last month. That soure said Friday’s news was “much more political than we thought it would be. This is extremely limiting.

But conservative religious groups are hardly cheering. The most effusive praise I’ve heard from the right comes from Robby George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton: “It is possible that the restraint shown thus far by the NIH is in part the result of pro-life lobbying efforts, including efforts by pro-life supporters of President Obama. If so, all who have assisted in these efforts, including Obama’s pro-life supporters, deserve recognition and thanks. We can pause only for a moment, however.”  . . .

The one place where praise for the NIH move has been forthcoming is from the religious center, as represented in this instance by Faith in Public Life. The group has assembled a list of endorsements from prominent religious figures, including social conservatives like Joel Hunter, Doug Kmiec, and Samuel Rodriguez.

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