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Sherley v. Sebelius put to bed
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it has denied certiorari in the long-running, contentious case of Sherley v. Sebelius, and will not be reviewing a challenge, which allows the earlier ruling to stand and puts no further roadblocks in the path of human embryonic stem cell researchers. The high court rejected, without comment, the challenge brought by James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, who argued that human embryonic stem cell research violates federal law which bans researchers from creating and destroying embryos for scientific purposes.
"This is good news for patients," the Association of American Medical Colleges said in a statement. "Research using hESCs (human embryonic stem cells) conducted under rigorous ethical standards continues to offer great promise in the search for cures and treatments for a variety of intractable diseases. With the legislative, regulatory and legal barriers cleared, we hope the promise of hESC research can now be realized."
The case began back in 2009 when Sherley and Deisher sued to block federal funding for such research, funding that was made possible shortly after President Obama signed an executive order that reversed a ban by the Bush administration on providing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Sherley and Deisher, both of whom work with adult stem cells, began their case based on the argument that the President's expansion of federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells put them and others who worked with adult stem cells at risk of being put out of the running for federal grants. The Dickey-Wicker law, established in 1996, prohibited taxpayer funding for any research that results in harm to an embryo.
In response to the challenge by Sherley and Deisher, a preliminary injunction was issued in August 2010 by a U.S. district court judge that shut down federally funded human embryonic experiments. Sherley and Deisher's request for a review of the case came about when that decision was overturned by an appeals court. After the 2010 ruling that blocked funding, a three- judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the ruling on the basis that the law was ambiguous. The panel deferred to the National Institute of Health's interpretation that funding was legal for research that used embryonic stem cells so long as the embryos were not destroyed in the course of the research.  
The controversy of the case has revolved around embryos and the question of their viability and the ethics of using them in research. Human embryonic stem cells, cells derived from eggs fertilized in vitro, have the ability to differentiate into nearly any type of cell in the human body, which translates to exceptional potential for use in a variety of disease treatments—including cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, ALS and Alzheimer's disease—as well as regenerative medicine.
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