On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lambert ruled that all federally funded research on human embryonic stem cells (hESC) is illegal. He reasoned as follows: If a human embryo was destroyed to make a cell line, then any experiment on any cell descended from that embryo is "research" where a human embryo "is to be harmed or destroyed." According to the judge, this runs afoul of an obscure proviso known as the Dickey Amendment which bars federal funds for research that destroys human embryos.
The ruling flies in the face of facts and logic. Research on existing lines of hESC does not destroy human embryos.
The first human embryonic stem cell line was created in 1998. The 5-cell embryo used to create that line died at least 12 years ago.
As I wrote in today's edition of the Weekly Pulse:
According to the judge's logic, a scientist is destroying an embryo when she tests a drug on an embryonic stem cell that is the great-great-great-[?]-granddaughter of a cell that belonged to a 5-celled embryo that was destroyed in 1998. Hundreds of scientists all over the world might be working with cells from that embryo at this very moment. According to the judge, each of them is destroying an embryo that ceased to exist 12 years ago. So, every day, they all get up, go to work and destroy the same non-existent embryo? What happens when come back from a coffee break? Do they destroy it again?
To its credit, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it will appeal. It's a brave decision. The midterm elections are just weeks away.
The stakes are too high to play politics. If the ruling is upheld, the government will have to suspend $54 million in funding for 22 research projects by September. One of the projects that will be delayed is a clinical trial of hESC for Parkinson's disease.
Even George W. Bush had enough sense to realize that research on existing embryonic cell lines didn't violate the Dickey Amendment. Obama did Bush one better by rescinding the ban on federal funding for research on newer stem cell line, but he kept the rule against using federal funds to create new lines.
Lambert's ruling takes Christianist pretzel logic to its ultimate conclusion: Not only does sacred human life begin at fertilization, it also continues after death--that is, unless you're a patient with Parkinson's disease who was hoping to start an experimental treatment, in which you are cordially invited to fuck off and die. Non-existent embryos have more rights than you. At least we all know where we stand.
[Photo credit: flickr user Tatcher a Hainu/Eckhard Völcker, licensed under Creative Commons. NB: the photo shows the cells of a stem, not stem cells.]