WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a case from two adult stem-cell researchers challenging taxpayer funding of experimentation that destroys human embryos.
“Today’s refusals by the Supreme Court to hear our case is not the ending of our cause,” said Dr. James Sherley.
“Instead, it provides a new basis for educating the world that embryos are living human beings, worthy of all the safeguards provided to other human-research subjects.”
Researcher Theresa Deisher added that the legal fight, although unsuccessful, “brought adult stem cells to the forefront of many scientists’ minds and contributed significantly to the adult stem-cell progress and focus that many scientists and clinicians are following.”
“Without this suit, many of these scientists and clinicians might have traveled blindly down the embryonic and aborted fetal stem-cell roads,” she explained.
On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court declined to hear the scientists’ appeal in a case charging that public funding of embryo-killing stem-cell research violates federal law.
The lawsuit challenged the 2009 regulatory guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health, which allow taxpayer funds to be used for research on newly created embryonic stem-cell lines.
The plaintiffs argued that such funding violates the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a provision included each year in the Health and Human Services’ appropriations bill to prohibit federal funding of research in which human embryos are “knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”
The federal government argued that this prohibition does not apply to funds used for research on the stem cells that are harvested from such embryos.
After being tied down with technicalities, the lawsuit proceeded before a federal judge, who issued a temporary injunction in August 2010 to suspend funding of the research. However, an appellate court reversed that injunction in April 2011, ruling that the meaning of the amendment was ambiguous.
With the Supreme Court declining to hear the case, the scientists have exhausted their legal options.
Funding for research on human embryos was controversial under President George W. Bush, who limited such funding to 21 embryonic stem-cell lines already in existence. Since taking office, President Barack Obama has extended that funding to new embryonic stem-cell lines.
Opponents of the research point out that it requires the destruction of a human embryo. They further note that such research has not led to a single cure, while adult stem-cell research — which does not require the ending of a human embryo’s life — has been very successful in treating numerous diseases. The Catholic Church condemns embryonic stem-cell research because it's fatal to human life.
Sam Casey, an attorney who helped to represent the adult stem-cell researchers in the case, suggested that Congress should consider changing the language of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to clarify its meaning.
He called on lawmakers to specify through new legislation that they will not accept the expenditure of “federal taxpayer funds on unethical and unnecessary embryonic stem-cell research that requires the destruction of living human embryos.”