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Sherley, et. al., v. Sebelius, et al. lawsuit dropped
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


WASHINGTON—Stem cell research got a reprieve this week as the courts dismissed the Sherley, et. al., v. Sebelius, et al. lawsuit against the Obama administration's Executive Order 13505, "Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells," which allowed and funded stem cell research. With the lawsuit dropped, U.S. researchers are free to continue researching and looking for cures that might be possible through stem cell treatments.
Sherley, et. al., v. Sebelius, et al. claimed that stem cell research that was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) violated then-President Bill Clinton's 1995 Dickey-Wicker law, which banned the NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services from using funds for research that would harm or destroy a human embryo. It was filed back in 2009 by two scientists who also argued that Obama's pronouncement threatened their ability to get government funding for adult stem cell research due to the extra competition.  
In 2010, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, chief of the federal court in Washington, ordered a halt on stem cell research, saying that the lawsuit was likely to succeed. The injunction was overturned by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, spurred by protest from the Obama administration.
"This Court, following the D.C. Circuit's reasoning and conclusions, must find that defendants reasonably interpreted the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to permit funding for human embryonic stem cell research because such research is not 'research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed,'" Lamberth said in an opinion Wednesday.  
As stem cell research has progressed and knowledge of and interest in its potential has multiplied, it has become a hot topic, enough so that Clinton, Bush and Obama have all passed varying legislation on the issue during their tenures as president, coming down on different facets of the issue. While Clinton's legislation banned the funding, Bush made his own proclamation, saying that researchers using human embryonic stem cells could get federal funding provided the cell lines were derived before Aug. 9, 2001, from an embryo that had been created for reproductive purposes and was no longer needed. He also made it required that informed consent for the donation of the embryo was secured. Bush followed that up with Executive Order 13435, "Expanding Approved Stem Cell Lines in Ethically Responsible Ways." The order stated that stem cell research could get government support, provided it was "research on the isolation, derivation, production and testing of stem cells … derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus."  
Obama's edict allows projects involving stem cell from already-destroyed embryos as well as embryos that will be destroyed in the future, but parents who donate the original embryo have to give consent and be informed of other options, such as donating the embryo to another infertile woman. It has also allowed the number of stem cell lines created with private money that federally funded scientists could study to increase from 21 during Bush's tenure to about 100.    
While the decision will lay things to rest for the time being, it is unlikely that it will solve the situation long-term. Stem cell research remains a point of growing concern for its opponents, who worry that additional support and interest will lead to the destruction of more embryos, bringing up the issue of viability, something else that will likely never be solved to everyone's satisfaction. However, most of their fears are unfounded, as stem cell research supporters point out that the majority of all stem cells used in this research are discarded extras from fertility clinics that would be destroyed regardless.
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