Debate Over Embryonic Stem Cell Research Heats Up Again
Two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s efforts to expand stem cell research. Judge Lamberth, in a 15 page decision, ruled that the new guidelines designed to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research violate a law prohibiting destruction of embryos for research purposes.
Stem cell research holds the potential to address some of the most difficult problems in the medical field from spinal cord injury to diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, which have all resisted traditional treatment.
Two doctors who research adult stem cells, James Sherley of the Boston
Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of AVM Biotechnology, argue that in addition to violating federal law, the guidelines will result in increased competition for limited federal funding and will injure their ability to compete successfully for National
Institutes of Health stem cell research money.
In his decision, Judge Lamberth concluded that the two researchers have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success in their argument that the Obama administration’s government guidelines violate the intent of the law about federal funding of embryo destruction. “As demonstrated by the plain language of the statute, the unambiguous intent of Congress is to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds on ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed,’” the judge wrote. “The question before the court is whether ESC research is research in which a human embryo is destroyed. The court concludes that it is,” Lamberth added.
Currently, federal law explicitly forbids use of taxpayer dollars to destroy a human embryo and culling stem cells from an embryo does destroy the embryo. However, once created, these batches of stem cells, or lines, can reproduce indefinitely in lab dishes.
Scientists who are proponents of using embryonic stem cell argue that they need to do research with embryonic stem cells as well as with the so-called adult stem cells because the former are more flexible. The National Institutes of Health is funding both types.
The Obama administration’s expansion of stem cell research has suffered a significant setback with a judge’s ruling that blocks important work on treating life-threatening conditions, especially in the eyes of private groups pushing for scientific breakthroughs in medicine. In March 2009, President Obama revised limits on stem cell research imposed eight years earlier by the Bush administration. Those restrictions declared that scientists could use federal money only to work with existing embryonic cells lines.
Human embryonic stem cells differ from adult stem cells in that they have the capacity to develop into any tissue in the body, such as insulin-producing cells that might eventually treat diabetes or neurons that could replace those that perish as Lou Gehrig’s disease progresses. But such research has provoked dissent from activists such as Sherley, who argue that it is immoral for scientists to work with cells derived from embryos because they have to be destroyed to extract stem cells.
Question Of The Week
Was Judge lamberth’s decision that federal funding for embryonic stem cell research violates federal law prohibiting destruction of embryos for research purposes correct?