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U.S. Court Victory for Stem Cell Research

Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a human embryonic stem cell

Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a human embryonic stem cell

Science Photo Library

Posted July 31, 2011
By Jackie Carrico

Eleven months ago, funding for stem cell research was temporarily suspended by a preliminary ruling in the U.S. District Court of D.C. by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth.

The case, Sherley et al. v. Sebelius, was reversed and dismissed by Lamberth himself. Plaintiffs James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher are stem cell researchers who initially challenged stem cell funding on the basis of the Dickey-Wicker Amendement. This amendment basically prohibits federal funding of research that creates embryos specifically for research or to destroy or discard them.

A 38-page decision explained Lamberth’s ruling. It does not seem like he really changed his mind on the matter; rather, he was bound by the U.S. Court of Appeals that overturned his injunction in April. This turned the case into a matter of “linguistic jujitsu,” as Lamberth described it.

The NIH is being allowed to continue funding research, under the assumption that they are not funding the derivation of these stem cells, but simply research on these cell lines. This seems like merely a loophole in the jargon that is legislation. It is hard to believe that labs are receiving funding from the NIH for stem cell projects, but are finding other funds for creating the stem cells. Private funding would be the only source of revenue for this endeavor.

The plaintiffs are not giving up on their efforts to stop stem cell research and funding. Senior counsel to the plaintiffs, Steven Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a pubic statement, “In these tough economic times, it makes no sense for the federal government to use taxpayer money for this illegal and unethical purpose.” They have vowed to weigh all options for appeal.

Meanwhile, Francis Collins, director of the NIH, said in a statement: “We are pleased with today’s ruling. Responsible stem cell research has the potential to develop new treatments and ultimately save lives. This ruling will help ensure this groundbreaking research can continue to move forward.” This is a great victory for patients and researchers involved in stem cell therapy and research. The NIH has drafted guidelines on responsible and ethical stem cell research in response to President Obama’s order to loosen constraints on government funding in March 2009. These guidelines are actually what prompted the lawsuit by the plaintiffs. Supporters of this ruling are still wary of the opponents pushing the issue further, perhaps even to the Supreme Court.



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