In 2001, President George W. Bush restricted federal funding for research on stem cells obtained from human embryos because the technology required the destruction of human life. “At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science,” Bush said.
“My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs,” he said. “I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator.”
Bush’s ban limited government funding for research on embryonic stem cells — which have the potential of curing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s — to already existing stem cell lines. Federal dollars could not be used to start any new cell lines or to conduct research on any newly derived cell lines.
Because embryos must be destroyed in order to extract stem cells, Bush cited concerns that such research devalued human life. Sane people will disagree over when life actually begins — at conception? at birth? — but either way, the embryos from which scientists obtain stem cells, unneeded embryos created by couples undergoing IVF, would have been destroyed by IVF clinics regardless.
Experts say Bush’s policy hampered progress in the field of stem cell research by depriving it of government funding, and drove some of the U.S.’s best scientists to set up labs abroad. In 2009, President Barack Obama lifted the restriction, making it possible for federally funded scientists to use excess embryos from IVF procedures to obtain stem cells for study.