The Justice department and two doctors last week (June 24) filed new legal briefs regarding the eligibility of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research for federal funding, ScienceInsider reports. In their brief, the plaintiffs argue that federal support of hESC research inevitably encourages egg donation and the resultant embryo destruction by increasing the demand for new stem cell lines. The Justice department countered that the plaintiffs’ argument is irrelevant, as the debate is about the funding of research on already derived hESC lines, which does not subject embryos to any harm.
The briefs are the latest in an ongoing legal battle over hESC funding, spurred by President Obama’s 2009 decision to allow federal support for such research. In October 2009, James Sherley, a researcher at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher of the Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute sued the government, arguing that the National Institutes of Health’s guidelines on hESC research violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker amendment, which bars federal funding for research in which human embryos are destroyed. Though an appeals court decided this April to allow the continuation of existing funding for now, the stem cell community is still awaiting a final decision on the matter.
If US District Court Judge Royce Lamberth declines to hear oral arguments, a final decision (barring any further appeals, of course) could come in as little as 2 weeks. Otherwise, researchers can expect to hear news one way or another at the end of August if he does hear oral arguments, according to Stanford Law professor Hank Greeley.