A news story is only as good as its sources
Throughout the long and complicated journey of Sherley v. Sebelius through the courts thus far, our coverage has been marked by rare and gracious access to the plaintiffs in the case.
'Tis the season to give thanks for the blessings in yourlife, so this month, I would like to use this space to express my gratitude to afew individuals who have made my job both interesting and pleasant this year. Moreimportantly, they have helped to make the content of this publication morecomplete, balanced and intriguing.
For more than two years, DrugDiscovery News has closely followed the complex legal trajectory of Sherley v. Sebelius, a controversiallawsuit in which a group of plaintiffs—led by two adult stem cell researchers—arechallenging the legality of government funding for research of human embryonicstem cells (hESC). This month, we bring you up to date on the latest news inthe suit (See "If at first you don't succeed …"),which is that the plaintiffs have appealed the U.S. District Court for theDistrict of Columbia's July dismissal of the case.
The fate of the case and its impact on hESC research in theUnited States is expected to eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court—sowe'll be reporting on it for some time to come. Throughout the lawsuit's longand complicated journey through the courts thus far, our coverage has beenmarked by rare and gracious access to the plaintiffs in the case, who have surelybeen inundated with media requests and found themselves in a position to defendwhat are some strong views on hESC research—the way it is performed, how itshould be funded, its moral implications and the scientific possibilities itholds.
At the top of 2011, the lead plaintiffs in the suit, Dr.James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical ResearchInstitute, and Dr. Theresa Deisher, research and development director at AVMBiotechnology LLC in Seattle, granted us an exclusive interview about the caseand their opinions about hESC research. This summer, Deisher also lent hervoice to an editorial roundtable about stem cell research as part of ourthree-part feature series on the subject.
This month, our coverage continues with an interview withSamuel Casey, managing director and general counsel for the Law of LifeProject, the firm representing the plaintiffs. The Law of Life Project, Caseyexplains, is a public interest legal organization "dedicated to legallydefending the right to life and dignity of the human being from biologicalconception until natural death in all matters worldwide where such a defense isrequired." Casey and the organization have been working for many years to bringattention to what they consider to be serious flaws in the Dickey-WickerAmendment, a 15-year-old piece of legislation that has created confusion anddebate about the government's role in providing funding for hESC research.
Casey was generous with what I am certain is his verylimited time these days. He not only shared with me a complete legislative andlegal history of hESC research, but he was also quite candid and clear abouthis strong beliefs on the matter.
"This is a case where the will of Congress is clear, butambiguity has been created by a government agency to get around Congress," hesays.
In Casey's view, although those in favor of hESC researchclaim it holds the promise for potential cures or treatments fordifficult-to-treat conditions and diseases, he argues that "America has theresponsibility to chase therapies where they really are."
"The NIH is not in the basic research game," he says. "Itexists to find human therapies. There may be some important basic researchbreakthroughs, but those can be handled without taxpayer money. This has beenthe biggest, most expensive, most wasteful scientific funding football of thelast decade. I am sorry that the courts and judges in this case have found thatthis is not clear."
When covering any legal battle—especially a case ascontroversial as this one—it's quite rare that the media has the opportunity tospeak to the parties involved. On the occasions we do, we're usually givenbland, noncommittal "formal statements." That hasn't been the case here. Wethank the plaintiffs and their representatives in this case for their time andcandor, and we look forward to their continued discussion of the case as itproceeds.