When it came to embryonic stem cell work, Michigan was a special case until last November. It was illegal to create embryonic stem cells in Michigan, until the voters approved a new constitutional amendment allowing it.
Most other states didn’t have such a ban, but not much research went on. That’s because President George W. Bush was adamantly opposed to it, and had forbidden that federal funds be used for it. That is, except for a few so-called cell “lines” that were already in use in 2001.
Californians appropriated a few billion for the purpose, but most other states didn’t have that kind of dough. As time went on, it became clear that Mr. Bush was clearly out of the mainstream on this issue --even within his own party. Three years ago, both houses of a Republican-controlled Congress passed a law restoring federal funding for stem cell work. But President Bush vetoed the bill, and vetoed it a second time the next year.
Two weeks from now, however, George Bush will be gone. New President Barack Obama is a strong supporter of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and is expected to lift the ban. But the question is how, and when. There are two ways he could do it. First of all, President Obama could merely issue a presidential directive allowing the funding. That, after all, is what President Bush did when he denied the funding eight years ago.
Simple, easy; no muss and little fuss. However, not everyone thinks that is best. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thinks it should be done by passing a law which the president would sign.
That would seem the way to do it in a democracy. But there are problems with that, too. Opponents might wage a nasty fight, creating an atmosphere of bitter division at the beginning of a tough economic year when a spirit of unity will be sorely needed.
Then, too, legislation takes time. On top of which our new president is going to have a very full plate. There are wars waging in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gaza strip.
Plus, his absolute top priority is going to be to keep the United States economy from sinking into something that might be much worse than a recession. Incidentally, we here in the Midwest need President Obama to give some attention to saving the domestic auto industry. In other words, he has limited time for stem cell wars.
If I were advising him, I would suggest he lift the ban on federally funded research, with an executive order, and then suggest that Congress pass a bill when it has time.
However, once that is done, places like Michigan’s Center for Stem Cell Biology are going to have another problem: Finding federal funds they can apply for. In today’s economy, good luck with that.