nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why A Federal Judge Blocked Embryonic Stem Cell Research

You may have seen this in the news.  It's not clear to a lot of people why this occurred.  What follows is an everyday language explanation.

Sometimes the science jargon is baffling.  Sometimes the legal jargon doesn't make sense.  What's underneath all the scientific community's shock is a little-known law that Congress renews every year. 

Despite the fact that we all heard the Obama administration's announcement to "return science to its proper place" and that embryonic stem cell research could now be funded, it's not that simple.  The articles I read this morning (Wall Street Journal, Aug 24), emphasize the poltical blather rather than what's behind the decision.

The little-known law is referred to as Dickey-Wicker.  It just says that federal funds can't be used for research in which a human embryo is destroyed.  It sounds straight-forward, but...

What the Obama administration did is tell the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to come up with guidelines that would allow federal funding for stem cell research where the embroy's were not being created or used for the purpose of research.  But, rather, embryo's which were not used for In Vitro Fertilization (and would be lost anyway), could be used to develop cell lines in culture that could then be used for research.

Did I make that clear?  Looking back, I'm not sure.  One more try:  NIH developed guidelines that allowed  cell lines from unused embryo's to receive federal funding, because the embryo's weren't being produced for the purpose of stem cell research.  So, use of destroyed embryo's NO, use of cells from destroyed embryo's YES.

However....the federal judge said that doesn't meet the requirements of Dickey-Wicker, which says "no research in which a human embryo is destroyed."... It doesn't matter that the cell lines are later in time, they still came from a destroyed human embryo.  Also, the law doesn't make any distinction about why the embryo ended up being destroyed.  The government tried to limit D-W to direct use of the embryo, and that cell lines were distinct and different.

In the legal decision,
...the Dickey-Wicker Amendment does not contain any language to support such a limited definition of research. Rather, the language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed. This prohibition encompasses all “research in which” an embryo is destroyed, not just the “piece of research” in which the embryo is destroyed.
I think the legal opinion is clear and correct.  The law can always be changed, but we know members of Congress don't like to be on the record as having voted on evenly split moral issues.  So, we'll see...

And there's another problem.  The Bush administration allowed 21 cell lines of long standing to be used for embryonic stem cell research (despite what you heard about Bush not allowing any).  The Obama administraiton increased the number to 75 under their (now-blocked) guidelines.  How come the older cell lines can keep going?  They came from embryo's originally, too?

This is typical for when science and politics get into a head-butting contest.

Doc D


seborgarsen said...

excellent post, thank you.

Doc D said...

DOJ will appeal. So Congress probably won't fix the "legal language" problem; they'll go for the courts. It's the American Way. Thanks.

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