Stem cell research

Legal decision is bad news for US stem cell research

Captura de ecrã - 2010-08-25, 02.54.34

Barack Obama’s decision to reverse the block on federal funding for research involving embryonic stem cells was one of the landmarks of his early presidency, marking his intention to give science as free a hand as possible and re-establish the US as a nation that valued its position at the leading edge of technological advancement.

This administration, the announcement implied, does not shrink from policies that will enrage some of the more shrill voices on the religious right. Yesterday a coalition of those voices and other campaigners for the rights of unborn children were celebrating Judge Royce C Lamberth’s ruling that allowing federal funding contravenes the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to the Balanced Budget Downpayment Act of 1996, approved by Congress and included in every appropriations bill (legislaton that allows the US government to spend money) since.

 Dickey-Wicker prohibits the use of federal funds for “(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) 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 under [applicable federal regulations]”

 Judge Lamberth, understandably, ruled that this amendment is not ambiguous and that it overrules the President’s executive order allowing funding for embryonic stem cell research and the National Institutes of Health’s [NIH] subsequent guidelines for grants.

 American scientists are anxious about what the ruling will do to their research programmes. Dr. George Q. Daley, director of the stem cell transplantation program at Children’s Hospital Boston, told the New York Times: “This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work since the Obama administration made its order.”

 President Bush had allowed federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines that had already been created before a ruling in 2001, but not for new ones, that had mostly been created from donated embryos from fertility clinics since then. Further clarification is being sought from Judge Lamberth on whether even this was legal, as the distinction between the destruction of embryos for research purposes and the use of the cells resulting from that destruction has been judged to be invalid.


A ruling that could even result in a more restrictive framework than was in existence under President Bush would be a severe blow for embryonic stem cell research in the US, and scientists will be putting their hopes into an appeal, adult stem cells, work going on outside the US and the possibility of obtaining embryonic cells without destroying the embryo.

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