Time Magazine’s cover story this week is on the promise of stem cell research, and the scientists who persisted developing this field despite obstacles mounted by President George W. Bush.
In 2001, without formal rulemaking or even an Executive Order, President Bush announced a policy that effectively put an end to federally funded embryonic stem cell research. He based his “position on these issues [which] is shaped on deeply held beliefs” on “a great deal of thought, prayer, and reflection.” Religious convictions triumphed over science, and President Bush, in one televised announcement, limited federal funding to research on human embryonic cell lines derived before his speech. Unfortunately, the cell lines in existence were virtually unusable and not appropriate for direct development into human therapies. In making policy for this research, President Bush, expressing supremacy of religious views, restricted the marketplace of ideas through actions that denied the nation its right to political participation.
President Bush’s policy stalled research advances and thus the free exchange of scientific ideas. It undermined our right to know. The Supreme Court has “recognized that the State may not, consistently with the spirit of the First Amendment, contract the spectrum of available knowledge. In keeping with that principle, we have held that in a variety of contexts ‘the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.’”
We hope that President Obama will respect our right to receive information and ideas about advances in stem cell research of all types that may have a profound impact on public health and welfare.