Humanitarian goals, science get new life


POSTED: Monday, January 26, 2009

PRESIDENT Obama's inauguration has led to the resumption of aid to international groups that perform or give information about abortions and should open the door to important scientific research. Both developments are a boost to humanitarian and medical advances that should expand during the Obama administration.

The new president signed an executive order on Friday that ended the ban on giving taxpayer money to international family groups that offer abortions or provide related information. The assistance was available from the Agency for International Development during the Clinton administration but banned during the Reagan and both Bush administrations.

Obama also is expected to restore funding for the U.N. Population Fund, which George W. Bush had rejected on the contention that it supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization, an allegation that the agency vehemently denied. In fact, the lifting of the bans will reduce unintended pregnancies, abortions and the deaths of women from high-risk pregnancies.

The signing came a day after the Food and Drug Administration allowed the world's first clinical trial of a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells for spinal cord injury. The therapy uses an old embryonic stem cell line that was allowed under the latest Bush administration but the approval might have been delayed until Bush left office.

The Bush administration restricted federal financing for embryonic stem cell research because creation of the cells entailed destruction of human embryos, even though they had been destined for the trash. President Obama has pledged to remove some of the financial restrictions.