Win for stem-cell funding
HHS can sponsor research if cells already exist, appeals court rules
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld federally funded research using stem cells derived from human embryos—with the court’s three judges each offering a different reason for deciding so.
“If this was ever a simple case, it long ago ceased to be one,” U.S. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote in her concurrence. “Disagreement is inevitable when what lies at the core of the dispute is a profound question about the boundaries of science—one that is irreducibly controversial because the slippery slope is precipitous in both directions.”
In August 2009, a group of stem-cell researchers conducting work on cells not derived from embryos filed a federal lawsuit to block an HHS final rule that would have implemented a policy change announced by President Barack Obama to allow funding for some research involving embryonic stem-cell lines. Obama’s new policy reversed federal rules under President George W. Bush.
On appeal last August, the D.C. Circuit Court agreed with HHS and decided that the new policy did not violate an amendment to a federal appropriations bill that strictly prohibited federal funding “for research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.” The appeals court ruled that HHS could legally sponsor research on embryonic stem-cell lines as long as the stem cells already existed and the federal money wasn’t used in the process of isolating them from the embryo.
The circuit court sent the case back to the district court with orders to obey that legal reasoning, which it did in a judgment in favor of HHS. On Aug. 24, the three-member appeals court validated the district court’s judgment in a 27-page ruling that included two concurring opinions.
The majority ruled that the plaintiffs had raised no issue that could overturn the complex legal analysis that led to the district court’s summary judgment—which was based on the appeals court’s August 2011 decision that federally funded “research” could be conducted as long as it didn’t pay for physically extracting cells from embryos.