Stem Cell Decision Halts Scientific Research, Cures for Disease

August 24, 2010

(ChattahBox)— A federal trial judge’s decision to halt all ongoing embryonic stem cell research using federal funding, declaring President Obama’s executive order allowing such research under strict guidelines illegal, is throwing scientific laboratories into panic mode this morning. Not only does the ruling cast legal doubt on ongoing research to find cures for multiple chronic diseases and paralysis, but it also is so vague, as to push back embryonic stem cell research to pre-Bush era restrictions, essentially banning it altogether.

Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the DC Federal District Court, a conservative Regan appointee, found that Obama’s 2009 executive order violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.” Lamberth then issued a temporary injunction, returning embryonic stem cell research using federal funding to the “status quo,” but it’s unclear what that is. Does it mean under pre-Bush or Bush era guidelines? The scope of the judge’s decision finding Obama’s executive order illegal, suggests the former.

The New York Times reports on the confusion caused by Lamberth’s order and accompanying decision:

“The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration’s new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law. Scientists scrambled Monday evening to assess the ruling’s immediate impact on their work.”

“I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government,” said Dr. George Q. Daley, director of the stem cell transplantation program at Children’s Hospital Boston, referring to food given to cells. “This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work since the Obama administration made its order.”

The judges’s decision essentially argues that all embryonic stem cell research results in the destruction of a human embryo at some point in the process and therefore, violates federal law.

“ESC research is clearly research in which an embryo is destroyed. To conduct ESC research, ESCs must be derived from an embryo. The process of deriving ESCs from an embryo results in the destruction of the embryo. Thus, ESC research necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo.” […]

“Simply because ESC research involves multiple steps does not mean that each step is a separate “piece of research” that may be federally funded, provided the step does not result in the destruction of an embryo.”

“But his decision overlooks settled law. As explained by Think Progress, “Under Chevron v. NRDC, judges are normally supposed to defer to an agency’s reading of a federal law unless the agency’s interpretation is entirely implausible, and the Obama administration quite plausibly read the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to only prohibit federal funding of the actual destruction of an embryo — not federal funding of subsequent ESC research.”

Even under Bush, embryonic stem cell research was allowed with federal funding on existing embryonic stem cell lines, as long as new lines were not created. But even that restrictive policy is now in serious doubt.


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