Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Injunction Against Human Stem Cell Research

In March of 2009 President Obama issued an executive order permitting the use of federal funds for research on stem cells lines derived previously from human embryos, arguing that the researchers had not destroyed the embryos themselves. The Obama executive order effectively overturned the ban of the Bush administration on the use of human embryonic stem cells for research. At the time, I reported in this blog that the Obama order might still face a legal challenge, based on a federal law called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment of 1999.

Last week it finally happened. As the result of a lawsuit filed by several Christian groups and two doctors opposed to human stem cell research, a U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction which blocks the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from implementing the Obama order. The judge argued that the Obama executive order clearly violates the language of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, and even some supporters of the Omama order grudgingly agree. According to Harvard ethicist Louis Guenin, allowing research on cell lines merely derived from human embryonic stem cells would be like allowing research on dead bald eagles. It’s illegal to kill bald eagles, and therefore anyone doing research on bald eagles killed by someone else would be considered complicit in the crime.

If research on stem cells derived from human embryos is to continue, it appears that Congress will have to overturn the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Whether there are sufficient votes in both houses of Congress to do so is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, funding for future projects is on hold. And while NIH’s interpretation is that currently-funded research projects can continue for now, not everyone seems to agree. We’ll have to see how this one shakes out. For starters, I’m sure we can expect the ruling to be appealed.

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