April 30, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Embryonic Stem Cell Decision Overturned

Judge Lamberth’s decision to block federal funding of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research last fall (09/03/2010) has been overturned by a 2-1 vote in a federal appeals court.  PhysOrg called this a “major victory to President Barack Obama’s administration.”  Theistic evolutionist Francis Collins, head of the NIH, expressed delight at the reversal.  The earlier decision did not “ban” ESC research, but only forbade federal funding for it.  It appears the reversal was due to a technicality about alleged vagueness in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment upon which Lamberth had ruled, but did acknowledge that federal funding cannot be used to destroy human embryos.
    Has there been any progress in ESC research to justify Collins’ enthusiasm?  Medical Xpress posted a report from UC San Francisco where scientists are figuring out how mouse embryonic stem cells form the neocortex of the little rodent brain, but no promise for human health was presented.
    Elsewhere, PhysOrg announced that Stanford is creating the first PhD program in stem cell research in cooperation with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), but did not mention whether the research would involve human embryos.  The article mentioned that students “can learn both the science and ethics of human stem cell research” but did not elaborate on what those ethics might entail.
    There’s also a legal battle in Europe over whether labs can patent their ESC products (see PhysOrg.  The article stated, “The advocate-general of the European Court of Justice has recommended the prohibition on ethical grounds of patents involving human embryonic stem cells.”
    The real progress in medical treatments continues to be made with adult stem cells.  For instance, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) might be able to treat immune diseases, Medical Xpress reported.  An article on Science Daily detailed the major innovations in both ESC and iPSC research.
    Treatments using ESCs were mentioned only in future tense: they “hold tremendous promise for regenerative medicine”  Also, “Many in the science community consider the use of stem cells to be key to the future treatment and eradication of a number of diseases,” the article said, but did not mention any actual studies with results.  By contrast, adult stem cells were distinguished by several benefits, including ethics: “iPS cells can be ideal for a personalized approach to drug discovery and for rejection-free transplantation, while they wholly avoid the ethical concerns of embryonic stem cells.
    Ron Prentice at the Family Research Council expressed disappointment at the decision.  “As the dissenting opinion by Justice Henderson noted, the logic for the current decision is a case of ‘linguistic jujitsu’ rather than straightforward interpretation of the law.”  He promoted research on adult stem cells that are already healing diseases and improving lives.  “Federal taxpayer funds should go towards helping patients first, not unethical experiments.”  Focus on the Family called it a “small victory” for the Obama administration in a long battle.

Once again we see money and fame trampling over ethics.  Secular science pays lip service to ethics when it comes to research fraud, but routinely shreds the concerns of ethicists over the use of human embryos for research.  Although the media are usually strongly biased toward the pro-ESC side, we do acknowledge that Peter Aldhous at New Scientist at least included one quote from the Family Research Council.
    If ESCs were so promising for health, private investors would flood research labs with dough.  The only way the ESC-greedy research community can proceed is by taking money from taxpayers, many of whom are appalled by killing embryos.  Such a selfish, ethics-be-damned mentality is pervasive in many other segments of our culture, including politics, law and business.  Can judgment linger forever?

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