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Bioethics, News, Stem Cell Research

Court: U.S. can fund embryo research, as long as researchers kill the embryos first

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion late last week in Sherley v. Sebelius allowing the Obama administration to continue funding destructive embryo research. 

At issue was President Obama’s March 9, 2009 executive order directing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to issue new stem cell guidelines to include the funding of research on stem cell lines derived from human embryos. 

The plaintiffs in the case—researchers who perform ethical adult stem cell research—argued that the funding violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment (renewed annually since 1996).  Specifically, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment expressly prohibits NIH from funding research in which human embryos “are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”  The researchers argued that because performing research on stem cell lines from human embryos means that human embryos must first be destroyed to obtain the stem cell lines, funding research on stem cell lines violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

Unfortunately, the Court rejected this logical argument.  On its face the Court’s decision is technical in nature; the Court simply states that it had already concluded in a previous appeal that funding research on stem cell lines from destroyed human embryos does not violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

But the reasoning used in that previous appeal was flawed.  The Court made the atrocious distinction that research on stem cell lines does not actually kill or harm embryos because the stem cell lines are no longer embryos.  Of course, that is because the embryos have already been destroyed in order to obtain the stem cell lines.  The Court stated, “Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived [embryonic stem cells]—which are not themselves embryos—because no ‘human embryos or embryos are destroyed’ in such projects” (emphasis in original).

In other words, the government will fund any research using human embryos, as long as the researchers kill or harm the embryos before getting the money.  This is a clear distortion of the intent and spirit of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

The plaintiff researchers also argued that NIH violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA).  Section 553 of the APA requires government agencies to provide the public with notice of a proposed rulemaking, an opportunity to comment, and a concise general statement of the rule’s basis and purposes after considering the relevant comments.

When NIH opened comment on its proposed funding guidelines, the plaintiff researchers and many other individuals and organizations—including AUL—filed comments demonstrating that funding research on embryonic stem cell lines violates Dickey-Wicker and is unnecessary in light of the significant breakthroughs in adult stem cell research. 

The plaintiff researchers filed comments advocating that the government not fund research on embryonic stem cell lines.  But the Court declared that the plaintiffs’ comments “did not address any factor relevant to implementing” Obama’s executive order, and thus NIH did not have to respond to them and the APA was not violated.

As such, explaining that there are better, more ethical, and more successful avenues of research was deemed irrelevant information.  The government does not have to consider such “irrelevant” things as whether there are more promising forms of research when deciding which research to fund.  This makes no sense from either an economic or medical perspective—and it is not at all comforting that such information does not factor into budgetary decision-making.

This means that funds are diverted away from adult stem cell research—which has yielded successful treatments and cures of over 70 diseases and conditions—and toward embryonic stem cell research, which has never helped a single human patient.  In fact, in 2011, Geron—the company that received the first government approval for human clinical trials using human embryo stem cells—announced it is discontinuing “further stem cell work.”

Of course, this seems to be a theme with the current administration.  Disregard the sanctity of human life.  Ignore the pro-life community.  And just throw American’s money away.