Two of the candidates for the upcoming presidential elections in the US have publicly criticised George W Bush's policy on human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. On 9 August 2001, President Bush announced that federally-funded scientists in the US could only work on ES cell lines already in existence before that date. Research that would cause the destruction of any further embryos for research would not be permitted.
According to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), by the end of 2001 there were more than 70 ES cell lines available worldwide to be used by federally-funded US researchers. But the policy has since been criticised because many scientists feel that the cell lines available for research are both inadequate and unsafe. In May 2003, Elias Zerhouni, director of the NIH confirmed in the journal Science that only 11 human ES cell lines are available for use by US researchers. This is significantly fewer than the number originally stated by the NIH. Since August 2001, scientists have learnt to grow ES cell lines without using mouse cells to promote growth and many scientists see this as a 'safer' option.
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, was asked by the Los Angeles Times what, if he was elected, his first action as president would be. He replied: 'On the first day I enter the Oval Office, I will repeal the Bush restrictions on stem cell research. And I will work to create an American Center for Cures to help find cures to the chronic diseases that now afflict 100 million Americans and cost us 750 billion a year'. He added that he found the Bush policy on stem cell research to be 'cruel'.
Howard Dean, the state governor of Vermont, another Democratic presidential candidate also said that he would allow ES cell research if he was elected. He criticised Bush's policy, saying that it was based on 'religious beliefs'. He added that 'we ought to make scientific decisions, not theological and theoretical decisions'.