Previously, under the Bush administration, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research had been introduced but was limited to stem cell lines from embryos that had already been destroyed; no taxpayer dollars would fund research on new stem cell lines of living embryos, or the creation of new embryos.
The administration also directed federal funding of research on stem cells from other sources like umbilical cord placenta, and adult and animal stem cells. Obama's executive order significantly expanded federally-funded embryonic stem cell research.
After a challenge was mounted to the Obama administration's expansion of embryonic stem cell research, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ultimately upheld taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research in 2011, and the Supreme Court in 2013 declined to review a challenge to the ruling, allowing it to stand.
The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis Personae states that "the obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo…invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit."
"Irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results," the document goes on to add, such research "advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity".
Pope Francis, in his 2017 remarks to patients with Huntington's Disease and their families and caregivers, condemned the destruction of human embryos in research, saying that "we know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos."