U.S. Appeals Court: Government Can Fund Stem Cell Research
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A three-judge panel at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused to order the Obama administration to stop funding embryonic stem cell research on Friday.
This ruling comes despite complaints that the research is dependent on destroyed human embryos. Opponents to the research claim the National Institutes for Health (NIH) is violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law which prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.
The judges were unanimous, however, in upholding the lower courts decision to throw out the case entirely. This is the second time the appeals court has said that federal funding of stem cell research was permissible.
“Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived ESCs [Embryonic Stem Cells]— which are not themselves embryos — because no ‘human embryo or embryos are destroyed’ in such projects,” Chief Judge David B. Sentelle said in the ruling, adding that the plaintiffs made the same argument the last the time the court reviewed the issue. “Therefore, unless they have established some ‘extraordinary circumstance,’ the law of the case is established and we will not revisit the issue.”
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement, “NIH will continue to move forward, conducting and funding research in this very promising area of science. The ruling affirms our commitment to the patients afflicted by diseases that may one day be treatable using the results of this research.”
Maladies that researchers believe can be someday cured by this kind of research include spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, bone marrow diseases, and Parkinson’s disease.
Those opposed to the research object because the cells were obtained from destroyed human embryos. Current research is using cells culled long ago, opponents fear that success in these experiments would drive new embryonic destruction.
Those who support the research assert that most research cells come from extra embryos that fertility clinics would have discarded anyway.
The lawsuit, filed in 2009, argued that Obama’s expansion jeopardized the plaintiffs’ ability to win government funding for research using adult stem cells because it will mean extra competition.
What is the difference in embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells? ESC’s are pluripotent, meaning they have the ability to differentiate into any one of the 220 cell types that are in a human body. Adult stem cells are already “hardwired” into a certain direction and can only become a limited number of cell types.
President Obama is not the only president to allow stem cell research. George W. Bush also permitted the research, but limited the availability of taxpayer funds to embryonic stem cell lines that were already in existence and where “the life and death decisions have already been made.” This meant that new cells could not be harvested, and embryos could not be collected unless the decision to terminate the “life” of the cell had already been made. What President Obama has done is open this up, allowing projects that involve stem cells from already destroyed embryos and those to be destroyed in the future. To qualify, parents who donate the original embryo must be told of other options, such as donating to another infertile woman.
Of course, greed over research funding wasn’t the only argument the plaintiffs made. They also argued that the Dickey-Wicker law prohibits federal funding for protects where embryos are ” knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death,” and that the NIH had issued guidelines on the funding without responding to complaints about the research.
“Because the executive order’s entire thrust was aimed at expanding support of stem-cell research, it was not arbitrary or capricious for NIH to disregard comments that instead called for termination of all ESC research,” including research the White House has permitted since 2001,” said Sentelle, who wrote the majority opinion.