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US court victory for embryonic stem cell research

1 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 618

A District Court judge in the US has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to ban federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. The decision, by Judge Royce Lambeth, is the latest development in the case of Sherley v Sebelius – a landmark lawsuit filed against the US's state-funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2009.

The case was brought by two scientists, Dr James Sherley and Dr Theresa Deisher, who opposed changes to NIH guidelines that expanded hESC research following an executive order by President Barack Obama. This order eased restrictions on hESC research imposed by the previous President, George W. Bush, but the pair, who both work with adult stem cells, argued the new guidelines violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. This is a 1996 law which bars the use of federal funds for 'research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed'.

Last year Judge Lambeth issued a preliminary injunction to suspend federal funded hESC research, but his decision was overturned after just 17 days by the Court of Appeals in Washington. In April, a majority ruling delivered by a three-judge panel found Judge Lambeth had 'abused [the court's] discretion' when he issued the injunction. They found that the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is ambiguous and that, although it bars funding for the destructive act of deriving hESCs from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which hESCs are used.

In a 38-page summary judgment issued this week, Judge Lambeth upheld the conclusions the Court of Appeals and acknowledged that it obliged him to rule in favour of the NIH. However, he wrote that by following the Court of Appeals' decision, his court had 'become a grudging partner in a bout of 'linguistic jujitsu'.

Supporters of hESC research celebrated the outcome. Tony Mazzaschi, senior director of scientific affairs at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington DC, described it as a 'great victory for patients and the researchers who are trying to help them'. Francis Collins, director of the NIH said in a statement: 'We are pleased with today's ruling. Responsible stem cell research has the potential to develop new treatments and ultimately save lives. This ruling will help ensure this groundbreaking research can continue to move forward'.

However, it remains possible that the plaintiffs will appeal this decision. Their lawyer, Stephen Aden of the Alliance Defence Fund, said in a statement that they were considering their legal options. He commented: 'Americans should not be forced to pay for experiments that destroy human life, have produced no real-world treatments and violate federal law'.

District Court Dismisses Case to Block Gov't Dollars from Supporting Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News |  27 July 2011
Federal judge tosses suit aimed at blocking stem cell research funding
Washington Post |  27 July 2011
Judge Backs Obama Order on Stem Cells
Wall Street Journal |  28 July 2011
US judge rules decisively for federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research
Nature |  27 July 2011
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The US Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling permitting the use of federal funds for research involving human embryonic stem cells....
2 July 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Stem Cell Bank, opened in response to restrictions on the funding of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research in the USA, will close after just four years in existence when it runs out of public funding later this year....
19 December 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
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26 September 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
Lawyers acting for two US scientists who sought to challenge the legality of a decision by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to allow research on new embryonic stem (ES) cell lines have filed a notice of appeal. They seek to reverse the decision made against them by a district judge in July...
19 August 2011 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Should human embryonic stem cell research be deemed unethical for its embryo destruction? The US court decision in Sherley v Sebelius on 27 July 2011 to allow federal funding of this research set a global precedent. The meaning of research was divided into two categories: that which directly involves embryo destruction and that which does not...
23 May 2011 - by Nisha Satkunarajah 
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has overturned a preliminary injunction banning federal spending on research involving human embryonic stem cells (hESC)...
13 December 2010 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
The US courts are currently attempting to decide whether human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research may continue to receive federal funding, after a lawsuit was brought against the US Government last year....
31 August 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A ruling of a district federal judge has halted federally-funded embryonic stem cell research in the United States...
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