On Thursday, federally funded stem cell research was again given a green light when an appeals court issued a single-page order temporarily lifting the ban set in place last month by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. This is only the latest round in that case, brought to federal court last year by stem cell opponents, who have sued the government to prevent taxpayer money from being used for the research. Following their request for both parties to supply more information regarding their positions by Sept. 20, the judges overseeing the arguments warned both the public and the parties involved to not misconstrue their ruling as being indicative of any decision favoring one side or the other in the case.
The debate over stem cell research really heated up in 2001 during President Bush’s first term in office, when both the House and the Senate approved federally funding stem cell research in the hopes that it could be used to develop treatments and cures for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and a range of other diseases. Bush opposed the research and promptly vetoed the bill. President Obama supports stem cell research and overturned Bush’s ban in March of 2009.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, polls have shown that the majority of Americans, even the moderately conservative, are in favor of stem cell research because of its potential greater positive impact on the lives of so many people suffering from devastating illnesses. Prior to Obama lifting the ban on such research, there had been many drives to try to get Bush to reverse his decision from across both Democratic and Republican party lines.
Most of the opposition to stem cell research comes from staunch conservatives who oppose the funding largely on religious grounds, maintaining that it costs a human life to conduct the research and Americans who are pro-life shouldn’t be forced to allow their tax dollars to pay for it. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which is at the heart of the current lawsuit, sought to ban federally funded stem cell research, or any research that destroyed a human embryo, on those grounds.
As the judges in Thursday’s order maintained, this new ruling isn’t really legally meaningful for either side, simply because of the fact that its a temporary decision. Supporters of stem cell research are taking it as a positive sign nonetheless, as it appears to set up precedence for a more binding decision in their favor at a later date. Opponents also seem to be taking the temporary lift as a more ominous sign of things to come.
Were the ban on federally funding stem cell research to be more permanently lifted, it would allow NIH to continue awarding grants to scientists who are working in the field, financial support that many of them could not continue without. If the ban is sustained, however, that research would see limitations akin to those during the Bush administration, but wouldn’t halt completely due to the fact that the ban makes no limitations upon privately funded stem cell research.
Karen Kaplan and Amina Khan, “Ruling Allows NIH to Temporarily Resume Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research.” LATimes.com
NewsBatch.com, “Recent Background News on Stem Cell Research.”
Linda Feldman, “Beyond the stem-cell showdown.” ChristianScienceMonitor.com
CBSNews.com, “Obama Ends Stem Cell Research Ban.”