Opposition to the Bush administration's procrastination on embryonic stem cell research was stepped up last week, as seven US scientists and three patients mounted a legal challenge calling for research to go ahead. The alliance has launched a case against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), claiming that a review of human embryo stem cell research is resulting in a delay which breaches a statutory duty to fund 'scientifically meritorious research projects'.
The NIH issued guidance last August on federal funding of the work, but the new Bush administration asked the HHS to review the guidelines in February of this year. HHS secretary, Tommy Thompson, then told the NIH to put the guidelines on hold whilst a review took place.
The delay angered many scientists and patients keen to see embryo stem cell research go ahead in the public sector, as recommended by the NIH. The plaintiffs, which include stem cell researchers James Thomson and John Gearhart and the paralysed actor Christopher Reeve, launched their lawsuit in order to show that there are legal as well as ethical reasons for federally funded research to start. The US government has 60 days in which to respond to the complaint.
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent a letter to Brigitte Boisselier and Zavos Panos, who have both made public their intention to produce human clones, warning them that they may break the law in doing so. The letter states that cloning is 'subject to FDA regulation' since human clones can be considered either 'biological products' or 'drugs'. But legal experts - as well as Boisselier and Panos - argue that no court would uphold the FDA's claim.