Judge Puts Obama Embryonic Stem Cell Policy on Hold

Daily News Article   —   Posted on August 24, 2010

(by Valerie Richardson, WashingtonTimes.com) – A federal judge issued a temporary hold Monday on the Obama administration’s new guidelines on human embryonic stem cell research, dealing the White House a serious setback in its efforts to promote the highly sensitive research with federal funding.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth granted a preliminary injunction to a coalition of researchers and Christian groups and gave them hope for a successful trial outcome by indicating that President Obama’s executive order likely violates federal law.

In his March 2009 signing order, Mr. Obama lifted the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The National Institutes of Health [NIH] published its final guidelines on the research in July 2009.

The problem, according to the 15-page opinion, is that the guidelines appear to violate an annually passed appropriations rule that prohibits the use of federal funds for research in which a human embryo is deliberately destroyed.

“[P]laintiffs have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success that the Guidelines violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment,” Judge Lamberth wrote in the opinion.

“Congress has spoken to the precise question at issue – whether federal funds may be used for research in which an embryo is destroyed,” he said. “Thus, as demonstrated by the plain language of the statute, the unambiguous intent of Congress is to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds on ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.'”

Once the question of the law is decided, Judge Lamberth added in a passage that heartened pro-lifers, the question “is whether [embryonic stem cell] research is research in which a human embryo is destroyed. The court concludes that it is.”

Steven H. Aden, a counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, one of the conservative groups that provided legal help in the case, said, “The American people should not be forced to pay for experiments – prohibited by federal law – that destroy human life. The court is simply enforcing an existing law passed by Congress that prevents Americans from paying another penny for needless research on human embryos.”

Attorneys for the Justice Department had argued that the destruction of an embryo and research on the destroyed embryo should be viewed as separate legal acts.

The NIH guidelines “recognize the distinction … between the derivation of stem cells from an embryo that results in the embryo’s destruction, for which federal funding is prohibited, and research involving [stem cells] that does not involve an embryo nor result in an embryo’s destruction, for which federal funding is permitted,” according to the defense brief.

But the judge rejected the argument.

“If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an [embryonic stem cell] research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment,” wrote Judge Lamberth, a 1987 appointee of President Reagan.

[Opponents] of embryonic stem cell research applauded the ruling.

“The court said, ‘Hey, listen, all of this is part of the research. You can’t do the research without killing embryos,'” said Dr. David Stevens, chief executive officer of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit.

However, Sean Tipton, public affairs director for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, called the decision “incredibly disruptive.”

“This injunction blocks important research on how to unlock the enormous potential of human embryonic stem cells,” he said.

The decision leaves the Obama administration with a choice: whether to continue to fight the lawsuit, despite the strong likelihood of success [for the plaintiff], or take advantage of the strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, likely to be thinned in the upcoming midterm elections, to repeal the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

“They may appeal this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to go back through Congress during the lame-duck session, because the composition of Congress may change significantly after November,” Dr. Stevens said.

First introduced in 1995 and signed by President Clinton, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment has been included every year since then in the appropriations bills funding the Health and Human Services Department. It was named for its two Republican House sponsors, Reps. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, who is no longer in Congress, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who now serves in the Senate.

One irony is that the case was originally dismissed by the same judge after he found that the two adult stem cell researchers listed as plaintiffs – James Sherley of the Boston Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of AVM Biotechnology – lacked standing, or the legal right to bring a case.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed Judge Lamberth in June, stating that the two researchers could bring a case on the basis that their work could be hurt by the added competition for federal scientific funds.

Judge Lamberth’s ruling Monday was not a decision on the merits of the researchers’ lawsuit, which will be tried later. Rather, it blocks the Obama administration’s policy from taking effect while the case is being tried, something judges do only when they think the plaintiffs have a good chance of winning their case.

In his signing ceremony, Mr. Obama said that embryonic stem cell research had the potential for medical breakthroughs that could lead to cures for devastating illnesses and injuries. He said the ethical dilemma should be resolved in favor of helping the living.

“As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the administration was reviewing the decision late Monday afternoon.

Mr. Bush had limited stem cell research to the roughly 20 then-existing lines of embryonic cells. The Obama signing order permitted research on cells from any line of embryos that were otherwise scheduled for disposal.

 

Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.

Questions

Students:  The debate over research on embryonic stem cells, and using taxpayer dollars to fund the research, is a moral and ethical debate.  Read the “Background” information below the questions to gain a better understanding of the embryonic stem cell funding debate.

1. How does President Obama’s executive order, authorizing taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research, differ from President Bush’s policy?

2. How did U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth rule on funding for embryonic stem cell research?

3. On what grounds did Judge Lamberth make his ruling? (see para. 4-7, 12)

4. The United States Department of Justice (often referred to as the Justice Department or DOJ), is the federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice.  The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate and is a member of the Cabinet. The current Attorney General is Eric Holder. (from wikipedia)
a) What argument does the Justice Department make to support the funding of embryonic stem cell research?
b) Do you think this is a reasonable argument? Explain your answer.

5. What options does the Obama Administration have in responing to the hold placed on funding for embryonic stem cell research?

6. What do you think of Judge Lamberth’s ruling? Explain your answer.


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Background

 

Background on Adult Stem Cells vs. Embryonic Stem Cells: (from pbs.org, a Newshour Extra report on the Stem Cell Research Debate by Lisa Prososki)
Stem cells are universal cells that have the ability to develop into specialized types of tissues that can then be used throughout the body to treat diseases or injuries. [Embryonic] Stem Cell Research is a topic embroiled in much controversy. Scientists are hopeful that one day stem cells will be used to grow new organs such as kidneys or spinal cords as well as different types of tissues such as nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. The controversy sparked by the use of [embryonic] stem cells and research in this area comes from the fact that…these cells are taken from embryos that are just days old. As a result of this, the embryo, which is a developing human life, is destroyed. Many people feel it is immoral and unethical to destroy embryos for the sake of science. To further the debate, while these cells are easily cultured, replicate quickly, and have a relatively long life, embryonic stem cells have not yet been successfully used to provide any kind of therapy for humans and pose risks such as tumor growth and rejection by the body.

On the other side of the issue is the use of adult stem cells for research. Adult stem cells are available from a variety of sources including blood from the umbilical cord, the placenta, bone marrow, and even human fat. ….they may have some limitations in the type of tissues they are able to form. For many years, adult stem cells have been used to provide a number of different therapies to people with a relatively high rate of success. Recent research has shown that adult stem cells taken from one area of the body are able to regenerate and form tissues of a different kind. In addition to the proven therapies and research, the use of adult stem cells from a patient’s own body decreases the risk of rejection because the cells are not seen as foreign invaders.

All in all, many scientists believe that the use of adult stem cells should be the primary focus of stem cell research based on past success, lower chances of patient rejection, and the idea that adult stem cell research does not spark the moral, ethical, and political debate seen so frequently when the use of embryonic stem cells is considered.

 

THE DICKEY-WICKER AMENDMENT: (excerpted from wikipedia.org)

  • The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is the name of an add-on to an appropriation (spending) bill passed by Congress in 1995, and signed by former President Bill Clinton.
  • The Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from using appropriated funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which human embryos are destroyed.
  • The wording of the rider is generally the same year after year. For FY2009, the wording in the spending bill (enacted March 11, 2009) prohibits HHS, including NIH, from using FY2009 appropriated funds as follows:

(a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used 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 [in the womb]

(b) For purposes of this section, the term “human embryo or embryos” includes any organism, not protected as a human subject under 45 CFR 46 (the Human Subject Protection regulations) . . . that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes (sperm or egg) or human diploid cells (cells that have two sets of chromosomes, such as somatic cells).

  • Despite the March 9, 2009 executive order from President Obama, which removed the restriction against federal funding of stem cell research, the Wicker-Dickey Amendment remains an obstacle for federally-funded researchers seeking to create their own stem cell lines.

ADULT STEM CELLS VS. EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS. (from njfpc.org/Articles/AdultStem.asp)

  • Adult stem cell research has been on-going for 20-30 years, is not under any government restriction, and does not require the destruction of human life. These stem cells have already been used to treat spinal cord injuries, Leukemia, and even Parkinson’s disease . Adult stem cells are derived from umbilical cords, placentas, amniotic fluid, various tissues and organ systems like skin and the liver, and even fat obtained from liposuction.
  • In contrast, embryonic stem cells are obtained by harvesting living embryos generally 5 to 7 days old, which are destroyed in the process. Most importantly, embryonic stem cells have never yet been successfully used to help cure disease. In fact, in animals they have caused tumors and other complications. Embryonic stem cells are also being touted by some as a possible treatment for repairing the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, but stem cell researchers confess that this is a distortion that is not being aggressively corrected by scientists.
  • A new poll, conducted by International Communications Research, reveals that once Americans understand the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells, Americans strongly prefer funding adult stem cell research that does not destroy human life, by a margin of 61% to 23%. So, what is driving the biotech industry and many government officials to press for government money to subsidize embryonic stem cell research? Free money, and research without ethical limitations.
  • Private industry has not been willing to put up any large sums of money on their own for embryonic stem cell research, because they are not sure it will yield the results they hope for. However, some drugmakers are getting into the field of research utilizing adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. Investors are now taking notice that adult cells are actually working with human patients, and researchers are finding that these cells appear to be as flexible as the embryonic type.

APPROPRIATIONS BILLS: (excerpted from wikipedia.org)

  • An appropriation bill is a bill which authorizes the government to spend money. It is a bill that sets money aside for specific spending.
  • Appropriations are generally done on an annual basis.
  • According to the Constitution (Article I, Section 7, clause 1), all bills relating to revenue, generally tax bills, must originate in the House of Representatives. The Constitution also states that the “Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills,” so in practice the Senate and House traditionally proceed separately, with each body drafting and considering their own bills separately. The Senate generally will amend its version of a particular appropriations bill to the House-passed version in order to send the bill to a conference committee prior to the bill becoming law. This is why the majority of appropriations bills that are enacted contain the H.R. modifier used to identify House introduced legislation.

Resources

Watch a video on Adult Stem Cell vs. Embryonic Stem Cell ethics below: