.- Two ethicists have praised a courtâs ruling that the Obama administrationâs federal funding policy for human embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is illegal, saying it upholds the ethical treatment of human beings. However, they warned that the ruling would prompt further political challenges to the funding restrictions.
On Monday U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said the funding violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits federal money for research in which an embryo is destroyed.
The 17,000-member Christian Medical Association (CMA) was one of the plaintiffs in the legal case, the Wall Street Journal reports.
âPeople forget that each one of us was an embryo, and if someone destroyed us for biological parts, we wouldn't be around today,â CMA executive director David Stevens commented in support of the ruling.
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), claimed that the ruling âhas the potential to do serious damage just at a time we were gaining momentumâ in stem cell research. He and other scientists who back ESCR claim the ruling will put the United States at a disadvantage.
ESCR scientists have already received $131 million in grants and can continue to use the money until it runs out. However, the NIH has abandoned its planned review of new grant applications and will not proceed with a second-level review of about a dozen other applications. A review of another 22 grant applications totaling $54 million is also on hold, the Journal says.
Because human embryonic stem cells are sometimes used as a âcontrolâ to judge the success of other stem cell research, the Journal reports, the ruling could also affect research focused on adult stem cell alternatives.
CNA spoke about the ruling in two separate Wednesday interviews with Edward J. Furton, an ethicist on the staff of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), and Fr. Thomas Berg, director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person.
Furton thought the decision was âa great court ruling.â He said that Judge Lamberth recognized a contradiction between the Obama administrationâs willingness to fund the research and its pledge to treat human embryos with the kind of respect that the Dickey-Wicker Amendment requires.
âJudge Lamberth simply says you canât separate these two events. You canât say âas long as somebody else destroys the embryo, weâre happy to fund the destruction of the embryo.â
âThe destruction of the embryo is an essential part of the research.â
Fr. Berg said he thought the court âcorrectly interpreted the intention of Congress in the original wording of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.â
âThe decision was spot on.â
In his view, the amendment was intended to disallow all federal funding for research that causes, brings about or involves the destruction of human embryos. However, subsequent loopholes were created to obscure that intention.
Asked about continued challenges to the amendment, which Congress must renew annually, the priest said that the amendment had been âin the crosshairsâ of many entities and legislators who âsee it as an obstacle to much easier funding.â
The court ruling is âcertainlyâ going to prompt further attempts to block the amendment, he predicted.
âMy sense is the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is certainly more in danger now than it ever has been,â he continued, recommending that pro-life advocates âreally need to speak very clearly and loudly to our representatives and let them know we want to preserve Dickey-Wicker.
Fr. Berg said the amendment arguably reflects the views of a majority of Americans, referring to a 2009 poll which reported that most Americans do not want their taxpayer dollars to fund the destruction of human embryos.
Furton addressed Collinsâ claim that the ruling could do âserious damageâ to embryonic stem cell research.
âThereâs a lot of money at stake, hundreds of millions of dollars,â he told CNA. âThere hasnât been much momentum on ESCR, itâs been very slow going.
According to Furton, alternatives such as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell research have attracted âall the research moneyâ from the business community and are âmaking great strides.â
The ethicist said that ESCR therapy is âplaguedâ by inherent and unsolved problems like immune system incompatibility, uncontrollable cell growth and the creation of tumors.
âThe adult stem cells are much easier to direct down a particular path,â he explained. âIf youâre looking for cures for diseases, then adult stem cells are the way to go.â
He deemed claims about the potential use of embryonic stem cells to be âhighly theoretical and speculative.â
Asked about the description of embryo-derived stem cells as the âgold standard,â Furton said it was an âoddâ expression but âunderstandable from a scientific standpointâ because other stem cells are compared to the embryonic cells to see if they have the same properties.
âIf your gold standard is the human embryo, then it is the so-called gold standard. But it is funny that you have a gold standard that doesnât seem to work very well.â
The Westchester Instituteâs Fr. Berg addressed the ethical objections to ESCR funding, saying the practice is âcomplicity in the destruction of individual, embryonic human persons.â
Asked about objections to the claim that the embryo is a person, he replied:
âYou were once an embryo. Thatâs a simple matter of scientific and biological facts â¦ In a way, we cannot become something that we arenât already. An acorn is not going to grow up to be a birch tree, it can only become an oak tree.
âThe human embryo is already a human being. It is already a human person at an early stage of development. The arbitrary isolation of that embryonic stage has no logical footing to stand on,â he continued, opposing the claim that embryos arenât persons but âsomehowâ become persons at some other time.
âThe fact that a human embryo is a member of the species homo sapiens is a simple matter of biology, itâs not a religious statement.
Furton also discussed the origin of the individual human being, saying the human person begins when sperm and ovum meet.
âYou and I were both human embryos at one point. If those embryos were destroyed we wouldnât be here today,â he told CNA.
âKilling a human being, no matter what advances you might gain from it, is not sufficient reason for carrying out such an act.
âHuman life is sacred and ought to be treated that way by the scientific community,â Furton stated.