Bad Ruling, Significant Consequences
Reader comment on: Stem Cell Court Decision
Submitted by Kevin T. Keith (United States), Aug 24, 2010 15:14
First of all, the ruling makes no sense. It is specifically predicated on the hoary "Dickey-Wicker Amendment" - a meddlesome piece of kludge that has gotten stuck on every federal budget for over a decade now, which prohibits federal funding for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are ]created or] destroyed". This has always been interpreted, without controversy, to mean that the government cannot fund the derivation of stem cell lines from embryonic tissue - actually taking the stem cells out of the embryos - but does not affect what is done with those lines after they are established in permanent cell culture. (Growing the cells in flasks, year after year, long after the original cells were removed and effectively no longer exist, has no effect on the long-dead original embryo or any other embryo. Research done on lab-grown cells years after the original harvest does not involve the original embryo or any other embryo.) This judge, after more than 10 years of research under this interpretation, has ruled that every experiment ever conducted, no matter how long after the fact, on cells grown from cells grown from cells grown from cells . . . grown from cells originally harvested from an embryo, is likewise banned from funding, forever, because doing research on derivative cells months or years after the fact does in fact involve "destroying" the no-longer-existent embryo from which the original cells were harvested. This is not only absurd on its face, but also contradicts the entire background and purpose of the Bush stem-cell policy, which explicitly banned funding for research on (most but not all) such derived cell lines because it was legal under Dickey-Wicker! There would have been no need for such a policy, and the massive political upheaval it caused, if the Dickey-Wicker Amendment had already banned such funding; Obama's ruling simply returns us to the status quo prior to Bush - a situation which no one has ever held banned funding for research not involving actual embryos.
Second, this ban, if it holds up - which it very likely won't - would have enormous consequences. There is little private funding for pre-marketable scientific research. Federal funding is the key to much basic medical research that for-profit companies later take advantage of (without paying), but will not fund at the early phase. And this ban, because of its absurdly sweeping consequences (it goes further even than the Bush policy), would stifle funding for all research of any kind, ever to be conducted at any time, on any biological material ever to have been derived from an embryo - no matter what the circumstances or how distantly removed from the original harvest.
This is stupidity armed with a cannon - not a good combination.
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The Future of Capitalism replies:
Great, if it's so horrible, Congress can just change the law. Second, there is a lot of private funding out there for research — Gates for malaria, Simons for autism, and if the government funding didn't crowd it out, there'd be more.
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