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  • elk_1l elk_1l Jan 21, 2013 12:02 AM Flag

    Stem Cell Research Gets a Reprieve

    EDITORIAL, NEW YORK TIMES

    Stem Cell Research Gets a Reprieve

    Published: January 20, 2013

    The Supreme Court has wisely ended a bizarre and destructive lawsuit to prevent the federal government from financing embryonic stem cell research. By refusing to hear the case, the court put a halt to more than three years of turmoil that drove some scientists away from such research because of uncertainty about its legality and questions about continued federal funding.

    Scientists study stem cells to analyze cell development and to explore ways that stem cells might repair or replace damaged tissues associated with such devastating ailments as spinal cord injuries, diabetes and Parkinson’s. Most of the stem cells used in such research have been derived from days-old human embryos through a process that destroys the embryos and is strongly opposed by many religious and social conservatives.

    Although federal law since 1996 has prohibited federal financing of research that destroys an embryo, the Obama administration, like the Clinton administration before it, concluded that if stem cells were derived (and embryos destroyed) with private or state money, federal money could support subsequent research. Rules issued by the Obama administration were challenged in court by two researchers who work on adult stem cells; they contended that no research could get taxpayer money if it depended on an embryo having been destroyed at some point.

    After conflicting lower court rulings, a federal appeals court dismissed the case, saying the administration’s reading of the law was permissible. And now the Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal. In recent years, scientists have increasingly turned to a form of stem cell that can be derived without killing or harming embryos, a trend that was probably accelerated by the litigation over embryonic stem cells, but they will still need the embryonic cells for many purposes.

    President Obama’s stem cell policies were established by executive order and could be overturned by executive order in any subsequent administration. At a minimum, Congress should codify the administration’s guidelines into law. Better yet, Congress should lift virtually all restrictions on this promising area of research.

    Sentiment: Strong Buy

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