President Barack Obama's decision to lift the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research affords U.S. scientists a chance to expand this potentially ground-breaking, disease-curing work and make up ground lost to researchers elsewhere whose hands weren't similarly tied. A memo also signed by the president yesterday would return science to its rightful place in government policymaking - above politics.
The stem cell decision has been anxiously awaited by American researchers who have been limited in their work on embryonic stem cells since 2001, when President Bush restricted the use of federal funds to research involving a relatively small number of existing embryonic stem cell lines. Mr. Obama's imperative for knowledge-based decision making should have a broader impact because it upholds the integrity of scientific research and should help ensure that government officials consider all the facts, for better or worse, in deciding public policy. The practical outcome of the stem cell decision won't be readily known until the National Institutes of Health devises guidelines on taxpayer-funded research on embryonic stems cells. It has 120 days to do so. Then, there is the issue of funding. Congress' commitment should be respectable and aim to complement state research financing, not replace it.