US President Barack Obama will today wipe out another contentious aspect of his predecessor George W Bush's legacy by removing curbs on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The president will sign an executive order reversing a policy that critics say has hampered the fight into finding treatments for grave diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes, a senior administration official said.
The official would not divulge the exact wording of the order, but confirmed it would be in line with Mr Obama's campaign vow to restore funding to embryonic stem-cell research. The move will spark delight among scientists who have long campaigned for the Bush policy to be overturned, but was already running into fire from social conservatives and right-to-life groups.
Mr Obama spelt out his campaign policy on stem-cell research last August in a list of answers to the Science Debate 2008 scientific lobby group. "I strongly support expanding research on stem cells," Mr Obama wrote. "I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem-cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations."
Reports about Mr Obama's plans were immediately condemned by Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, who called Mr Obama's plan "a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life". John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said government money should be used to fund alternative stem-cell research that does not involve destroying an embryo.
"Republicans enthusiastically support adult, cord blood, and pluripotent stem cell research that have shown so much promise in recent years," Mr Boehner said. "The question is whether taxpayer dollars should be used to subsidise the destruction of precious human life." But Irving Weissman, the director of the Stanford Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, said the move would put the United States back at the forefront of medical research.
"Now with the lifting of the ban on funding ... President Obama has removed politics and ideology from the funding of research," Mr Weissman argued, adding that he hoped the newly invigorated research "will lead to better understanding of human disease." Mr Bush barred federal funding from supporting work on new lines of stem cells derived from human embryos in 2001, allowing research only on a small number of embryonic stem-cell lines which existed at that time.