Researchers can mark March 9, 2009 as the date that the federal restriction on embryonic stem cell research came to an end. It's also likely to mark the start of a new debate over who should provide the funds to support researchers.
The Washington Post notes that a slew of state programs have been set up in recent years to provide research money to stem cell scientists. But with most states groaning under a severe fiscal crunch, some are likely to reconsider their support now that the federal government is preparing to step back in.
While scientists in the field widely applauded the move by the Obama administration, there's still considerable uncertainty over when, if ever, the government will provide taxpayer funds to back experiments on actual embryos.
The New York Times quoted administration sources as saying that President Obama will sign an executive order lifting ESC restrictions Monday. For years scientists in the stem cell field complained that the limitations on funding had seriously hampered the field. To make sure that no federal dollars were used in violation of Bush's executive order, some had to create parallel laboratories. That is coming to an immediate end. And the executive order will open up the use of hundreds of stem cell lines that have been developed in recent years.
But Obama wants lawmakers to decide if federal dollars should be used to back scientists' experiments on embryos. A ban prohibiting the use of federal dollars to support embryo experiments dates back to 1996. And as the Times notes, even suggesting a debate on the issue would have been swiftly shot down just months ago.