Supreme Court has declined to hear a final appeal seeking to challenge the
legality of using public money to fund human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. The
decision was made by the highest court in the USA and brings an end to the long running legal
dispute, Sherley v Sebelius, and allows for federal funds to be made available
for hESC research using embryos donated from IVF.
Barack Obama lifted a ban on the federal funding of hESC research imposed by
former President George W Bush in 2009 and issued guidelines stating that the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is funded by public money, could
conduct 'scientifically worthy human stem cell research to the extent permitted
by law' (see BioNews 498 and 505). However, later the same year,
two adult stem cell researchers, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, brought a legal
challenge against the Government arguing that the federal funding of hESC
research is illegal as it involves the destruction of human embryos.
ordered in 2010 that the NIH should stop funding the research in view of a congressional
ban against funding research that leads to the destruction of human embryos,
known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment (see BioNews 573). The injunction
was suspended by the federal Court of Appeals later that year, pending further consideration
of the case (see BioNews 575), and was later overturned (see BioNews 608).
judge who granted the injunction, Judge Royce Lambeth, then gave a judgment for
the Government (see BioNews 618), only for that to be appealed by
Sherley and Deisher. The matter was finally heard by the federal Court of
Appeals in 2012, which decided in favour of the Government (see BioNews 671).
It held the ban only applies to research in which embryos are destroyed in
order to obtain stem cells. The type of research in question derives stem cells
from already-existing embryos left over from fertility treatment that would
otherwise be discarded.
couldn't be happier that this frivolous, but at the same time potentially
devastating distraction is behind us', said Dr Douglas Melton, a scientific director
at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Massachusetts, USA.
Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical
Research in Washington, DC, added that the refusal to hear the case represented
a 'great day for science'.
of hESC research have voiced their concerns over the
endorsement of publicly funded programs. Steven Aden, a senior counsel for the
Alliance Defending Freedom, involved in the case, said: 'Americans should not be forced to pay for
experiments that destroy human life, have produced no real-world treatments and
violate federal law - especially in burdened fiscal times like these'.
said the decision would not stop his efforts to 'emancipate human embryos from
research slavery sponsored by the NIH'.