SCOTUS Denies Cert in Stem Cell Case

The Supreme Court this week denied cert (that is, refused to hear the appeal) in a case where two scientists are trying to prevent the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) even if it involves stem cell lines that already exist. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them, so the cert denial leaves the Obama administration’s policy of allowing such research on existing stem cell lines in place.

The two scientists, James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher, do research on adult stem cells and have argued that federal law still bans federal funding from being used for ESCR. The Obama administration issued regulations saying that the law did not prevent funding for research on stem cell lines that already existed at the time Congress passed a law banning such research in 1996. The D.C. Circuit has now ruled twice in favor of the administration’s interpretation of the law and the Supreme Court has now allowed those rulings to stand.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, first passed in 1996 and attached to every appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, says:

(a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for–

(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or

(2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero

(b) For purposes of this section, the term “human embryo or embryos” includes any organism, not protected as a human subject under 45 CFR 46 (the Human Subject Protection regulations) . . . that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes (sperm or egg) or human diploid cells (cells that have two sets of chromosomes, such as somatic cells).

Bush issued an executive order banning all federal funding for ESCR, but Obama rescinded that order and replaced it with one allowing such research, the ruling notes, “as long as it utilizes cells from lines (1) created by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes, (2) no longer needed for that purpose, and (3) voluntarily donated by the individuals who owned them-even if that line was derived after 2001.”

This is a good result, of course, but I’d frankly like to see it go much further. I think scientists should be able to create new embryonic stem cell lines whenever they’d like by utilizing donated sperm and eggs. They would fertilize those eggs and create zygotes of a few hundred cells at the most before stopping and using those embryonic cells for research. The notion that this destroys a person is rather silly.

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  • iknklast

    Rather silly, Ed? I think you’re being a bit understated there. It’s extremely silly.

  • I’d like to report a theft.

    iknlast just stole that thought from my head. Must’ve left a window open….

  • slc1

    This, of course, is based on the totally preposterous claim of the born agains that life begins at fertilization. If that were true, then their god would be the worlds greatest abortionist as the majority of fertilized eggs fail implantation and are subsequently expelled.

  • iknklast, Ed’s not the only one who’s being a bit understated.

    Even ‘extremely silly’ doesn’t do it.

    ‘#@!%&***@#!@¡ silly’ might, but I’m not sure.

  • slc1

    By the way, in denying cert, it would appear that at least one of the conservative justices, in addition to Kennedy, voted nay. Interesting.

  • anubisprime

    At least present research can proceed, just imagine what could have been possible by now if such research was not banned by Bush in ’96’.

    I hope it will be a long time before it is challenged again and possibly in the light of the advantages, techniques. successes and progress will be summarily thrown out as a backward step in medical advancement.

    Although I suspect any Republican president will pander to the religio-nuts and try and repeal it, let us hope in 4 yrs or even 8 yrs the research has enabled palpable ‘miracles’ that will make it impossible to ditch the technique.

  • steve oberski

    Betcha it won’t stop them from using the therapies that are the result of stem cell research.

    Sort of like the anti GM folk who use insulin that is manufactured using genetically modified bacteria.

  • Betcha it won’t stop them from using the therapies that are the result of stem cell research.

    Once the first child-saving therapy is available, 99% of them will fold quicker than Ed with 72-off. The others will be made to look the callous fools that they are.

    Once question, though. In these days of international cooperation, how much has the bans on ESCR really impacted the field over the last twenty years, given that unfettered research has been able to continue in other countries?

  • No One

    Two scientists bring a case to court to prevent stem cell lines that would compete with their stem cells lines from being used. I wonder what their motivations could be?

  • TxSkeptic

    @ #5 slc1 –

    Maybe a couple of the old conservative justices thought “hey, I’m getting old, maybe some of that stem cell research can help save me from dementia or alzheimers. I don’t want to lose my mind!” Oops, too late.

  • Wes

    Two scientists bring a case to court to prevent stem cell lines that would compete with their stem cells lines from being used. I wonder what their motivations could be?

    I was gonna say the same thing. The invidiousness of their lawsuit seems so transparent that I have to believe either 1) They’re utterly oblivious to how they appear to others, or 2) They just don’t give a fuck. Either way, fuck ’em.

    The stem cell “controversy” is incredibly frustrating to me. There’s nothing involved in getting embryos for stem cell research that isn’t already being done in IVF clinics all over the country. Legislating against it doesn’t actually prevent the destruction of embryos from happening in any way. Of all the pointless debates happening in this country, the stem cell nontroversy is the most palpably pandering of them all. It really is nothing more than politicians and corrupt scientists and religious charlatans working the ignorant public up into a frenzy entirely for their own selfish benefit. The public has absolutely nothing to gain by banning it, banning it won’t save a single embryo from destruction, and the only result will be money in politicians’/lawyers’ pockets and longer delays in developing possible treatments. Gah! Sometimes I wish I were a species other than human. Human beings really can be complete dumbfucks some times.

  • tbp1

    I had a cousin who suffered a catastrophic spinal injury (not quite in the Christopher Reeve category, but close). After 20-some-odd years as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, with surgeries to numerous to count, and months when he literally couldn’t get of bed at all, and a great deal of pain, his body gave out and he died in his early fifties. Given the longevity in our family (both of his parents are going strong in their 80s, grandparents and great aunts and uncles who made it healthy and strong into their 90s), he should have lived to a ripe old age. But his parents had to bury their only child; his only child has almost no memories of his father walking, since the accident happened when he was very young. His marriage didn’t survive. He dealt with it all with astonishing grace and even humor (I’m not at all sure I could have done half as well as he did), but still it was incredibly hard on everyone connected with him.

    Stem cell research holds the most promise for eventually being able to help people with these sorts of injuries, but to the “pro-life” ghouls, a fertilized egg, months away from even resembling a human being, with absolutely no capacity for pain or cognition, is of more value than my cousin. He was a living, breathing human being with people who loved him and depended on him, and a productive, useful career that he enjoyed and was good at, but that simply doesn’t matter to these people.

    I am well aware that we are years, possibly decades, away from therapies that could help someone with injuries as severe as his, and maybe they will never come. I realize that even if such research weren’t all but banned, he probably would not have lived long enough to benefit from it, but we have lost years of valuable, irreplaceable time to medieval superstitions, and it really makes me mad.

  • slc1

    Re Wes @ #11

    As Mano Singham points out in a post today, the Raping Children Church is also vehemently opposed to IVF and artificial insemination so they would close down those clinics if they could.

  • baal

    @ #2 billy, inknlast beats me to my best ideas with some regularity.

    @ #8 tacitus – Bush the Lessers war on science and specifically stem cell research lead many top researchers to move to Germany and the UK (Europe generally). While this may have increased the number of stem cell researchers in Europe, it means that we did not generate as many stem cell focused labs in the US. This reduces the total number of researchers working on them as well as removing competition that spurs additional effort on the part of the labs that do exist.

    @ #12 tbp1 – thanks for that specific instance. I worked in a stem cell lab for a few years and saw many similar instances of cases where future stem cell therapies hold a lot of promise. Figuring out those applications, however, has been set back in the US by at least a decade. I’m looking forward to having either effective scaffolding of cartilage beds or a stem cell therapy to do the same. I’m sure runners and others looking at joint replacement surgeries would also like the option for less invasive options.

  • anubisprime

    I believe that some progress has been achieved with rats that have had their spinal column completely severed.

    Apparently it was a partial re-attachment…but early days and all that and it does seem to validate the research at this stage!

    But it is almost criminal that the gap could have delayed research by a decade…that is really sick!

    In the UK there is still an incredible amount of resistance, mostly evangelicals hiding behind a pet MP but the media are really not helping with their coverage either.

    Of course the main protagonists are the RCC but their stock is about as low as it is possible to go without being chased through the streets with pitchforks and burning fire brands.

    It seems that the traditional ‘respect’ thing is still ongoing, but not the obsequiousness of previous era’s so it ain’t doing the jeebus droolers much good!

    In the main they are managing to research, which at least is some consolation, but it could be so much better.

  • jackiepaper

    Funny, I just saw a comment on a local news site warning us all that stem cells are made from aborted fetuses. I say this because several more local folks chimed in to actually explain stem cells to the forced birther / conspiracy theorist. Will it stop that person from believing that doctors only preform abortions to get to all that sweet stem cell cash? Probably not. Will it stop wingnuts from spreading those lies? Nope. But, here’s the ray of hope: People who knew better spoke up. In my neck of the woods, that is cause for celebration.

    So is the news that this case will not be heard.