Court reinstates lawsuit challenging NIH embryonic stem cell guidelines

Court reinstates lawsuit challenging NIH embryonic stem cell guidelines


The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Friday that doctors performing adult stem cell research have 'competitive standing' to sue. The court therefore reinstated a federal lawsuit seeking to prohibit and overturn controversial guidelines for public funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The guidelines, released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in July 2009, listed regulations for embryonic stem cell research including the requirement for informed consent and prohibition of reimbursement for embryo donation.

In March 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order stating an Administration policy to fund ethically "responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell the extent permitted by law." 

The lawsuit challenging the president's executive order was filed by a former MIT faculty member, a research and development director for AVM Biotechnology, Nightlight Christian Adoptions on its own behalf as well as "next friend for plaintiff embryos" and the Christian Medical Association.

The broad coalition of plaintiffs argues that the NIH guidelines which claim to implement the President's order are both illegal and unethical. “Since 1994,” a statement from the group notes, “Congress has expressly banned NIH from funding research in which human embryos 'are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death'."

The lawsuit states, “These Guidelines authorize public funding of research that depends on and, indeed, requires the destruction of living human embryos. As a result, these Guidelines violate the Federal Funding Ban, and are therefore invalid.”

The plaintiffs also argue that the guidelines were created without following the procedures required by law. They assert that NIH issued its guidelines with “an unalterably closed mind, having prejudged the relevant issues.” Moreover, they assert, NIH did not consider the “ethically and medically superior alternatives” of adult and induced pluripotent stem cell research.

Expert stem cell researcher and plaintiff Dr. James L. Sherley explained that "the great irony of the guidelines is that research involving stem cells safely derived from human adults and other sources presents the same if not greater potential for medical breakthroughs, without any of the troubling legal and ethical issues related to embryonic stem-cell research."

While adult stem cells have successfully been used to treat more than 70 different diseases and conditions, embryonic stem cells have never yielded a single successful treatment.

“No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is worthless,” said Steven H. Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund, also co-counsel for the plaintiffs. 

“Although private-sector funding of embryonic stem cell research has been practically unlimited, it has failed to produce results,” he said. “Furthermore, experimentation on embryonic stem cells isn’t even necessary because adult stem cell research has been enormously successful. In these difficult economic times, why should the federal government use precious taxpayer dollars for this illegal and unethical purpose?”

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