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    George W. Bush undid a Clinton administration ban on funding for stem-cell research


    The Republican Congress blocked funding for stem-cell research under Bill Clinton

    In fact, a Clinton administration proposal to fund embryonic stem cell research was blocked by a Republican Congress, and revised guidelines for such funding issued under Clinton were suspended by Bush in favor of stricter rules. The PBS program Nova described the history of the rules:

    In 1993, with something called the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, Congress and President Clinton gave the NIH direct authority to fund human embryo research for the first time -- ushering in what seemed like a new era. In response, the NIH established a panel of scientists, ethicists, public policy experts, and patients' advocates to consider the moral and ethical issues involved and to determine which types of experiments should be eligible for federal funding. In 1994, this NIH Human Embryo Research Panel made its recommendations -- among them, that the destruction of spare embryos from fertility clinics, with the goal of obtaining stem cells, should receive federal funding. Embryos at the required stage are round balls no bigger than a grain of sand.

    President Clinton rejected part of these recommendations and directed the NIH not to allocate funds to experiments that would create new embryos specifically for research. But for the Gingrich-era Congress that took up the matter in 1995, funding any work with human embryos was going too far, and the recommendations created an uproar. Within a year, Congress had banned the use of federal funds for any experiment in which a human embryo is either created or destroyed. Known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment for its authors, Representative Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, and Representative Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, the ban passed as a rider attached to the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services. Congress has actively renewed that ban each year since, thus relegating all human embryo research to the private sector.

    After researchers achieved the isolation of embryonic stem cells in November 1998, the Clinton administration drafted revised guidelines to fund embryonic stem cell research, but those rules had yet to take effect when Clinton left office. Clinton's rules were suspended by the Bush administration in favor of its own rules.

    Bush's stricter rules limit funding only for embryonic stem cell lines already in existence at the time he issued his policy in a August 9, 2001, nationally televised speech. As The Washington Post reported in 2001, "the new policy will replace guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health a year ago under the Clinton administration that would have allowed the first federal subsidies of human embryo cell research."