Win for stem-cell fund­ing

HHS can spon­sor re­search if cells al­ready ex­ist, ap­peals court rules

Modern Healthcare - - LATE NEWS - Joe Carl­son

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.

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