Friday June 25, 2010

Fed Appeals Court Green Lights Suit Against HHS over Funding Embryonic Research

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 25, 2010 ( – Overturning a lower court ruling, a federal appeals court has told adult stem-cell researchers that they have standing to fight guidelines allowing taxpayer funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its decision Friday, finding that doctors doing adult stem cell research have ‘competitive standing’ to sue. Therefore, the court reinstated the doctors’ federal lawsuit, filed last summer, that seeks to preliminarily enjoin and ultimately overturn the controversial guidelines for public funding of embryonic stem cell research that the National Institutes of Health issued on July 7, 2009.

The implementation of these guidelines marks the first time that taxpayer dollars will be used to fund research that will result in the destruction of human embryos. Since 1994, Congress has expressly banned the NIH from funding research in which human embryos “are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

According to Thomas G. Hungar, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, “the language of the statute is clear. It bans public funding for any research that leads to the destruction of human embryos. NIH’s attempt to avoid Congress’s command by funding everything but the act of ‘harvesting’ is pure sophistry. The guidelines will result in the destruction of human embryos and are unlawful, unethical, and unnecessary.”

The plaintiffs contend that the NIH guidelines violate the congressional ban because they “necessarily condition funding on the destruction of human embryos.”

In addition, the plaintiffs allege that the NIH guidelines were invalidly implemented, because the decision to fund human embryonic stem cell research was made without the proper procedures required by law and without properly considering the more effective and less ethically problematic forms of adult and induced pluripotent stem cell research.

President Obama instituted the funding policy in a March 11, 2009 Executive Order, purportedly backing funding for “responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research … to the extent permitted by law.”

Yet pro-life leaders say Obama’s new guidelines fail his own test, arguing that they are both unlawful and based upon an ethically irresponsible misunderstanding of available scientific evidence.

“The great irony of the guidelines is that research involving stem cells safely derived from human adults and other sources presents the same if not greater potential for medical breakthroughs, without any of the troubling legal and ethical issues related to embryonic stem-cell research,” explained one of the expert stem cell researcher plaintiffs, Dr. James L. Sherley.

Clinical trials using adult stem cells have successfully reversed the effects of diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The plaintiffs argue that because NIH promulgated its guidelines with a preconceived determination to fund human embryonic stem cell research and without considering these scientifically and ethically superior alternatives, the guidelines are invalid regulations and should be struck down.

“The majority of the almost 50,000 comments that the NIH received were opposed to funding this research, and by its own admission, NIH totally ignored these comments,” said Sam Casey, co-Counsel for the plaintiffs and General Counsel of Advocates International’s Law of Life Project.

“The so-called spare human embryos being stored in IVF clinics around the United States are not ‘in excess of need,’ as the NIH in its guidelines callously assert. They are human beings in need of biological or adoptive parents.”

The lawsuit is brought by a broad coalition of plaintiffs, including Dr. James L. Sherley, a former member of the MIT faculty, currently working as a senior scientist at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute; Dr. Theresa Deisher, the founder, managing member, and research and development director of AVM Biotechnology; Nightlight Christian Adoptions, a non-profit, licensed adoption agency dedicated to protecting and finding adoptive parents for human embryos conceived through in vitro fertilization; all individual human embryos whose lives are now at risk under NIH’s guidelines; parents seeking to adopt human embryos; and the Christian Medical Association. The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending religious freedom and the sanctity of human life, is also serving as co-counsel on the case and providing financial support.