Supreme Court declines stem cell case

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Supreme Court declined Monday (Jan. 7) to hear a case about the Obama administration's funding of embryonic stem cell research, thereby allowing the continued use of taxpayer dollars for studies that require the destruction of human embryos.

The high court refused to hear an appeal from two scientists who have been challenging the funding.

"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 Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped litigate the case against the Obama administration.

"Congress designed a law to ensure that Americans don't pay any more precious taxpayer dollars for needless research made irrelevant by adult stem cell and other research," Aden said in a news release. "That law is clear, and we had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold its clear intent."

At issue is whether the Obama administration's policy violates the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an annual spending bill rider which bars federal funds for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death."

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in August upheld a federal judge's dismissal of a legal challenge to Obama's 2009 executive order that overturned a more restrictive funding policy under President George W. Bush. As a result, federal guidelines continued to allow funding for research on stem cells derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization.

Many scientists and biotech firms have promoted embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) -- and federal funds for the experimentation -- even though the extraction of such cells from an embryo results in the destruction of the days-old human being.

While advocates say the embryonic cells hold great promise for developing cures for various diseases, the results have been disappointing. ESCR has yet to provide any treatments for human beings and has been plagued by tumors in lab animals.

Meanwhile, research with adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has garnered more headlines. Adult stem cells have produced therapies for more than 70 afflictions, while iPS cells have demonstrated promising results.

As a result, ESCR has fallen out of favor with a growing number of scientists and biotech companies.

David Prentice, a senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, said a plain reading of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment would eliminate all taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research.

"Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is a tragic waste of lives as well as taxpayer money, since despite the promises made to gain the federal funding, there is not a single example of a successful treatment," Prentice said.

The D.C. Appeals Court judges agreed with a 2011 decision by a three-judge panel of the same circuit, saying "research" as used in Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous. They abided by the previous panel's ruling deferring to the National Institutes of Health's interpretation that "research" might be understood to exclude "the initial derivation" of embryonic stem cells.

"Under that interpretation, Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived ESCs -- which are not themselves embryos -- because no 'human embryo or embryos are destroyed' in such projects," the panel wrote Aug. 24.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius.

Obama's 2009 executive order overturned a prohibition instituted by Bush on federal funding of stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. Bush's 2001 order permitted grants for experiments on stem cell lines, or colonies, already in existence at the time of his action.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' yearly spending bill, is named after its lead sponsors, former Republican Reps. Jay Dickey of Arkansas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Wicker is now a member of the Senate.


Compiled by Erin Roach and Tom Strode of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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