WASHINGTON—Stem cell research got a reprieve this week asthe courts dismissed the Sherley, et. al., v. Sebelius, et al. lawsuit against the Obama administration's ExecutiveOrder 13505, "Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research InvolvingHuman Stem Cells," which allowed and funded stem cell research. With thelawsuit dropped, U.S. researchers are free to continue researching and lookingfor cures that might be possible through stem cell treatments.
Sherley, et. al., v. Sebelius, et al. claimed that stem cell research that was funded bythe National Institutes of Health (NIH) violated then-President Bill Clinton's1995 Dickey-Wicker law, which banned the NIH and the Department of Health andHuman Services from using funds for research that would harm or destroy a humanembryo. It was filed back in 2009 by two scientists who also argued thatObama's pronouncement threatened their ability to get government funding foradult stem cell research due to the extra competition.
In 2010, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, chief of thefederal court in Washington, ordered a halt on stem cell research, saying thatthe lawsuit was likely to succeed. The injunction was overturned by the U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals, spurred by protest from the Obama administration.
"This Court, following the D.C. Circuit's reasoning andconclusions, must find that defendants reasonably interpreted the Dickey-WickerAmendment to permit funding for human embryonic stem cell research because suchresearch is not 'research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed,'"Lamberth said in an opinion Wednesday.
As stem cell research has progressed and knowledge of andinterest in its potential has multiplied, it has become a hot topic, enough sothat Clinton, Bush and Obama have all passed varying legislation on the issueduring their tenures as president, coming down on different facets of theissue. While Clinton's legislation banned the funding, Bush made his own proclamation,saying that researchers using human embryonic stem cells could get federalfunding provided the cell lines were derived before Aug. 9, 2001, from anembryo that had been created for reproductive purposes and was no longerneeded. He also made it required that informed consent for the donation of theembryo was secured. Bush followed that up with Executive Order 13435,"Expanding Approved Stem Cell Lines in Ethically Responsible Ways." The orderstated that stem cell research could get government support, provided it was"research on the isolation, derivation, production and testing of stem cells …derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying,discarding or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus."
Obama's edict allows projects involving stem cell fromalready-destroyed embryos as well as embryos that will be destroyed in thefuture, but parents who donate the original embryo have to give consent and beinformed of other options, such as donating the embryo to another infertilewoman. It has also allowed the number of stem cell lines created with privatemoney that federally funded scientists could study to increase from 21 duringBush's tenure to about 100.
While the decision will lay things to rest for the time being,it is unlikely that it will solve the situation long-term. Stem cell researchremains a point of growing concern for its opponents, who worry that additionalsupport and interest will lead to the destruction of more embryos, bringing upthe issue of viability, something else that will likely never be solved toeveryone's satisfaction. However, most of their fears are unfounded, as stemcell research supporters point out that the majority of all stem cells used inthis research are discarded extras from fertility clinics that would bedestroyed regardless.