Last week ended with a ruling from a federal appeals court that should be a wake-up call to how far we are falling in our nation. If you recall, we’ve written much in this blog about the tug-of-war between the government and scientists competing for government grants to do ethical stem cell research versus research that destroys human embryos, therefore potentially taking a life. On Friday, a court ruled in Sherley v. Sebelius, saying the funding of human embryonic stem cell research can continue at the government level — just as long as the embryos are killed with private funds first.
It’s a complicated web, but in 1996 Congress enacted a ban on human embryo research that either created a new embryo (such as in cloning) or destroyed an existing embryo (as with medical research). Known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, it was a double-edged sword because it also allowed university researchers to take federal money, do their research, then launch biotech companies—then continue previously funded research without federal monies. In theory, at least, this should have allowed federal funding to people doing ethical stem cell research, such as those who use adult stem cells. Deisher (one of the plaintiffs in the case) and her companies, for example, would then be prime candidates for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding because, in working with adult stem-cell research, no embryos are destroyed.
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.
However, after running back and froth through the courts, on Friday MSNBC reported:
The three-judge panel says the government has correctly interpreted a law that bans the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos for research. The ruling is unlikely to put the issue to rest and one of the judges pleaded for Congress to make clear what the government should and should not be able to do.
The story continues:
As one of his first acts after he entered office, President Barack Obama issued an executive order reversing this and encouraging the National Institutes of Health to pay for embryonic stem-cell research, so long as federal money wasn’t used to directly make the stem cells. To get the cells, someone in a private lab using private money has to take apart the embryos – usually left over from fertility clinics and destined for the trash can. Federal funds may be used to work with the cells that private labs make available.
Did you catch that last part? Someone with private money has to destroy the embryos and then the government can fund it. It’s a technicality and the reality is that the Obama administration and the courts have found a way around an amendment that has guided research practices since 1996.
This twisted judicial reasoning actually perpetuates the same lies the abortion industry uses in its research—since the baby is dead anyway, we might as well do research on it. That’s how we got major vaccines, how we got the artificial flavors that Senomyx created for Kraft, Nestle (and formerly PepsiCo/Frito-Lay, who responded to the boycott and stopped); that’s what keeps the abortion industry alive. If we can find a rational justification for death then we somehow assuage our consciences to continue it.
This is a war that’s been underway since President Obama reversed the executive order, but the real tragedy of it is that doctors who are working with ethical stem cells, such as adult cells which have actually been proven to heal, are missing out on research opportunities because, as the lawsuit pointed out, by this circumventing of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment NIH funding goes to those working with embryonic stem cells. These cells look like they have promise and they make for some fascinating lab experiments; however, they haven’t actually cured anything—instead the money stays tied up with them. As AUL points out:
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.”
Not only is this ruling an injustice because potential life is destroyed for research, but it’s an injustice to those who are sick and need a cure that could come from proven adult stem cell research.