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Embryonic Research ReduxJudge rules it illegal, but higher court funds it

By September 15, 2010Sanctity of Life
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petridish.jpg“It’s illegal,” rules a judge. But a higher court decides it can get government funding while they ponder an appeal.

Despite multi-millions of dollars in private and government funding, controversial research that destroys human embryos has yet to come close to producing any treatments for patients. Now a federal judge has ruled that federal law prohibits federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Yet the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. agreed to the Obama administration’s request that funding for the research continue while the case is being appealed.

The Department of Justice argued that a temporary shut off of federal funding would cause “irreparable harm.”

Harm to whom? Researchers, taxpayers, and scientific progress.

Not considered by Justice or the appellate court are the human embryos that are killed for their parts. That’s who Congress was concerned about when they passed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment in 1996. It prohibits federal funding of “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.”

Despite this law, President Obama signed an executive order upon entering the White House allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research as long as private funding was used to kill the embryos. When citizens filed objections to proposed regulations that would implement President Obama’s order, the officials dismissed many of these objections as “unresponsive.”

Two adult stem cell researchers then sued the government. Drs. James Sherley of the Boston Biomedical Research Institute in Watertown, Massachusetts, and Theresa Deisher of AVM Biotechnology in Seattle, Washington, argued that President Obama’s policy violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

Judge Royce Lamberth agreed. Embryonic stem cell research “is clearly research in which an embryo is destroyed,” he ruled.

The government requested that federal funding continue while they appeal. Drs. Sherley and Deisher filed a scathing response to the government’s claim of irreparable harm if the federal funding spigot was shut off, stating it “rest[s] on speculation, misinformation, and hyperbole,” and was “replete with exaggerations and factual mischaracterizations.”

Judge Lamberth agreed. “Defendants are incorrect about much of their ‘parade of horribles’ that will supposedly result from this Court’s preliminary injunction,” he wrote. “In this Court’s view, a stay would flout the will of Congress, as this Court understands what Congress has enacted in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Congress remains perfectly free to amend or revise the statute. This Court is not free to do so.”

Now that’s a judge who understands his role. Apply the law, and don’t go beyond it.

But the appellate court put a hold on his ruling while it reviews the case. This allows tens of millions of tax dollars to flow to the deadly experiments.

And it means that money is not available for stem cell research that actually benefits patients — research that uses adult stem cells, umbilical cord stem cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells. These alternatives already provide benefits to patients. Embryonic stem cells have only given empty promises.

In the wake of Judge Lamberth’s ruling, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) set a hearing for September 16 to promote the deadly research.

Representative Diane DeGette (D-Colorado) responded by pushing a bill to fund deadly embryonic stem cell research and cloning of humans for experimentation — as long as the cloned humans are killed at a certain age. She is working with Rep. Mike Castle (R-Delaware) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), who are both running for the Senate.

One change since the last time Congress tackled the issue is public opinion. A Rasmussen survey found that fifty-seven percent say funding for deadly embryonic stem cell research should be left to the private sector.

Columnist Jeff Jacoby — who supports the destructive experiments — agrees. “Why should the federal government be funding controversial medical research in the first place?” he argues.

[P]athbreaking accomplishments in stem-cell science are possible even when the government isn’t footing the bill. As it is, a host of private funders are already pouring money into stem-cell research. The Washington Post reported in 2006 on the private philanthropy that was building new stem-cell labs in academia. “Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad gave $25 million to the University of Southern California for a stem cell institute, sound-technology pioneer Ray Dolby gave $16 million to the University of California at San Francisco, and local donors are contributing to a $75 million expansion at the University of California at Davis. Early this year, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg quietly donated $100 million to Johns Hopkins University, largely for stem-cell research.” Add to them the Starr Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and all the other private charities that have made stem-cell research a priority.

In the meantime, adult stem cell successes have even caught the attention of mainstream media. “Adult stem cell research far ahead of embryonic” reported The Associated Press on August 4, 2010.

For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it’s adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments.

Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals.

Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

“That’s really one of the great success stories of stem cell biology that gives us all hope,” says Dr. David Scadden of Harvard, who notes stem cells are also used to grow skin grafts.

“If we can recreate that success in other tissues, what can we possibly imagine for other people?”

Throughout the pitched battles over government funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research, Concerned Women for America has argued that it is immoral and unnecessary.

As the hype and pressure have died down, people are freer to take a clear-eyed view — and they are recognizing that this issue is more political than promising. As alarm over government over-spending grips the country, it’s unwise for politicians to push for millions more in tax dollars to be wasted on controversial, destructive, and unnecessary embryonic stem cell research.