The Supreme Court will not stop the government’s funding of embryonic stem cell research, despite some researchers’ complaints that the work relies on destroyed human embryos, according to an Associated Press report.
The debate began earlier this year when the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia cast out a lawsuit challenging the use of federal funding for stem cell research. The opponents claimed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was operating in violation of the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Law, which prohibits taxpayer funding for work on stem cells that destroys a human embryo.
This is not the first time challenges to stem cell research have been declared. It began whenaligned his political campaign with Christian fundamentalists to garner votes for his presidential election. Reagan relied on Christian evangelicals and even allowed conservative Protestant ideals to shape his campaign and later political policies, which gave rise to the national recognition of evangelicals as a political force. The irony of his policies is that he was taking a stand against research that could help find a cure for or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which ravished Reagan in his senior years.
In a recent allvoices.com article, Tom Cleveland outlines the former president George W. Bush’s continuation of the Reagan policies outlawing stem-cell research.
During his first year in office, in August 2001, President Bush issued an executive order that placed severe limitations on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. His explanation for his action went on to say, "At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science. It’s wrong to destroy life in order to save life."
As Cleveland points out, and rightly so, this is the party that deplores regulation.
President Obama reinstates cell stem research in 2009
In 2009, President Obama lifted the restrictions of the Bush era that limited federal funding of projects using then-existing lines of stem cells. Obama expanded the embryonic stem-cell research that continues today.
According to the NIH, by lifting the restrictions, the promise of stem-cell research lies in studying stem cells to understand how they transform into specialized cells that make up a human being. The NIH website continues:
Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are due to problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions.
Another potential application of stem cells is making cells and tissues for medical therapies. Today, donated organs and tissues are often used to replace those that are diseased or destroyed. Unfortunately, the number of people needing a transplant far exceeds the number of organs available for transplantation. Pluripotent stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities including Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury, burns, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Today’s ruling reaffirms that the NIH can continue to sponsor medical research using embryonic stem cells.
The controversy is over two different types of stem cells
The two researchers who filed the complaint favor relying on adult stem cells, rather than embryonic ones. James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, sued to challenge the funding.
Embryonic stem cells, which are derived from days-old human embryos, have the potential to form any of the body’s 200 or so cell types, such as nerve cells or brain cells, and to repair or replace damaged tissue or organs. Adult stem cells, found in living tissue, have a more limited potential to become other cell types.
The opponents of embryonic stem-cell research challenged the NIH guidelines in place by President Obama. Sherley and Deisher said the NIH was not in compliance with the 1996 federal law.
A judge in Washington ordered a halt to federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research in 2010. A federal appeals court prevented that ruling from going into effect and then reversed it.
The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 12-454.
The controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells for research began with the Republican Party being fueled by the Christian evangelical movement during the Reagan administration. The anti-research stance by Reagan, by the way, was later rebuked by his son Ron and wife Nancy, who came out later in favor of embryonic stem cell research.
Despite the fact that 75 percent of adults favored embryonic stem cell research in 2004, President Bush was able to prevent federal funding.
“The death of Ronald Reagan altered the course of the national dialogue about stem-cell research," said Civil Society Institute President Pam Solo in 2004. "When almost three out of four Americans say that they now are more likely to support stem-cell research, what you are witnessing is a fundamental shift in the way that average Americans think about this issue.” Despite the overwhelming support for research, President Bush continued the evangelical agenda.
The fight to keep funding embryonic stem-cell research is not over and should not be politicized by Republicans or Democrats because it is not a “conservative” or a “liberal” issue: For many it’s a quality-of-life issue or even the difference between life and death.
Sally Temple of the Albany Medical College in New York said it best:
"The fact is that any research that involves early stages of human life has to be treated with respect and understood in moral and ethical terms. Personally, I feel such research is entirely justified, given the hundreds of embryos made daily in fertility clinics, then frozen away forever amid the urgent need for cures to devastating illnesses."