President Barack Obama hasn’t so far taken many actions that ignite social and religious fervor.

Monday, Obama inflamed some passions when he signed an executive order that effectively reverses George W. Bush’s ban on using federal funding for most embryonic stem cell research.

The president’s decision is important in the drive to treat some of the most devastating diseases and it continues a message Obama has given before — that science, not other factors including religious beliefs, should drive medical and scientific policies.

That’s not to say there are no ethical issues involved in creating and using new stem-cell lines. There are legitimate debates over proper guidelines for the research. But those are issues taken seriously by scientists, including those at the National Institutes of Health, who will be setting the guidelines.

In spite of those opposing the decision, the president’s actions are in line with public opinion and have bipartisan support. Several polls take about a year ago showed that around 60 percent of the public supports embryonic stem-cell research, and loosening the Bush restrictions.

And even if Obama wasn’t president, the Bush restrictions would likely have been reversed as Sen. John McCain also favors the research, as do several other Republicans in Congress.

The need to use embryonic stem cells may not be necessary in the future; one recent discovery shows a fragment of skin may be turned into all-purpose stem cells.

Still, scientists say the gold standard for stem cell research and therapy remains embryonic stem cells. That is the area where the most promising developments are likely to come for treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Whatever the future of cell research, one thing is sure. New biomedical research will always draw sharp political and public debate.

What’s important, and what Obama appears to be promoting, is to frame those debates in good and ethical science.

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