The Stem Cell War Heats Up Again


Stem cell source

A federal district court judge in Washington, DC, ruled yesterday that federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research violates the Dickey Amendment, passed in 1995, that forbids the use of federal funds to create of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which human embryos are destroyed. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations had thought that they had artfully gotten around this restriction by regulatory interpretations. The National Institutes of Health concluded that while the government could not pay for the creation and derivation of embryonic stem cells federally funded researchers could use such cells once they had been derived.

The case had been brought before the court by the conservative Christian Alliance Defense Fund and Nightlight Christian Adoptions which wants to put embryos left over from fertility treatments up for "adoption." Both argue that deriving human embryonic stem cells kills pre-born people.

Given that about 60 percent of Americans support stem cell research using embryos left over from fertility treatments, this ruling will surely spark the stem cell wars anew. While researchers eager to get federal funding will be disappointed and the confusion over the ruling will likely further delay research, the good news is that there is a lot private and state funding available for stem cell research.

Stay tuned as this battle front in the culture war heats up again.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: New Orleans Levees Nearly Done, Primary Day, Judge Blocks Funds for Stem Cells

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  1. I’m surprised Reason doesn’t talk about the most egregious part of this ruling.

    The judge held that scientists working on existing adult stem cell lines might face increased competition for funding if embryonic stem cell lines were permitted, and that those current researchers had a right to injunctive relief to prevent others from competing with them for federal research dollars.

    In other words, one set of tax parasites is now legally privileged to be defended against competition from other potential tax parasites. I guess this is the “New Property”.

    1. Fluffy: Good point, but I left that out because in my judgment the claim is largely a stalking horse for their larger aim of preventing research using “pre-born people,” not obtaining more federal funding for adult stem cell research.

      1. I can definitely see the wider implications of that, Ron.

        But I’m sure you can see the wider implications of giving federally-funded scientists the equivalent of property rights to grant money, to the point where alternative avenues of research can be prohibited by law in order to protect the flow of funds to ennobled rentier scientists.

        That principle could be applied to…anything, really. Any area in which government funds are devoted to science.

        Yadda yadda yadda, standard libertarian disclaimer, blah blah blah – but the one thing I can think of worse than government domination of scientific research would be government domination of research where individual scientists can use the courts to stop areas of research that might threaten their funding.

        1. individual scientists can use the courts to stop areas of research that might threaten their funding.

          Yeah, IANAL but that just seemed f*cking bizarre! I hope they are censured by other funding/professional organisations.

        2. But I’m sure you can see the wider implications of giving federally-funded scientists ACORN the equivalent of property rights to grant money

          Already happened.

      2. a stalking horse for their larger aim of preventing research using “pre-born people,”

        “Stalking horse” is usually used to refer to sinister motives. As opposed to say, stopping federal spending on things that aren’t authorized in the Constitution, which every libertarian should support.

        This, friends, is one of those issues where the cosmos immediately align with their lefty friends even though libertarianism IS clear that the leftist position is wrong.

        1. I’m glad someone is pointing this out. Isn’t it kind of a no-brainer that the federal government has no business providing funding for this sort of thing, regardless of anyone’s stance on “pre-born people”?

          It’s just typical “well, what I want the government to spend money on is good, so the taxpayer should just sit back and take it”… I thought Bailey was better than that.

        2. Bravo. See my post below about extant “state” funding being a “good” thing in Bailey’s mind.

    2. I await conservative complains of activist judges legislating from the bench.

      1. Upholding an existing law is not legislating.

      2. Liberals are screaming “activist, partisan judge” from the mountaintops.

        Read any of the comment threads from any major paper and you’ll see the terminally libertarded foaming at the mouth, despite this ruling being little more than a judge, who the papers feel compelled to state was appointed by Reagan in a move of not-so-subtle partisan hackery, upholding an existing law set under Clinton.

        Views on the subject aside, I find it hilarious than a judge is labeled as activist and partisan for upholding the law as written just 15 years ago. It’s not like he’s interpreting some mysterious clause of some mysterious bill from 1883 in order to form the ruling.

      3. To the extent this ruling implies a right to federal grant money by particular groups, this is an awful decision, as it usurps the polictical branches ability to make policy within constitutional confines. To the extent that this is a court blocking machinations by the executive branch to subvert existing law, this is an excellent ruling.

        Really, this is a very mixed bag ruling as far as judicial activism goes.

    3. Fluffy, the only effect that has is to give someone standing to pursue this case. A huge problem with our system is that many violations of the Constitution are such that no one has standing to sue over them, so I’m not going to worry about questionable grants of standing.

      1. So in one post in this thread you appeal to principle [concerns about the constitutionality of funding any research at all – a principle I agree with on 100%] but in another post appeal to process: “Well, they had to make that crazy statement about having a right to not have your funding stream disrupted in order to give these plaintiffs standing!”

        We either have to be principle-oriented or outcome-oriented, sir.

        And I think endorsing the standing of these plaintiffs using this particular bit of crack-brained reasoning is wrong in principle and sets a bad precedent.

  2. Given that about 60 percent of Americans support stem cell research using embryos left over from fertility treatments

    Perhaps they should invest in, or donate to, companies or institutions pursuing this research.

    1. Didn’t bother reading even the next sentence, did you?

      You are a loathsome human being.

      1. This one?
        While researchers eager to get federal funding will be disappointed

        I think we can all agree that’s good news!

    2. You don’t understand. If the government, esp the federal govt, isn’t doing something, it doesn’t happen. The federal government is the ONLY body capable of action in our society. Or so it seems.

  3. the good news is that there is a lot private and state funding available for stem cell research

    Just as there was during the Bush administration. Despite the “war” mongering, this controversy seems to have lost much of its steam. Might the bogeyman’s retirement to Crawford have anything to do with the relative calm this time around?

    1. We’re busy with Muslims and Mexicans and gays, we hardly have time for stem cells.

      1. FUCK YOU!

  4. California still funding fetal stem cell research? They’ve got so much tax revenue in the Golden State they don’t know what to do with it all.

  5. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, or of government funding for this narrow line of research, one of the stupider effects of the government’s regulations is this:

    Assume that you’ve got a privately owned lab, and you take a government contract to work on, say, nerve damage for injured vets or effects of a biological terrorist attack, or studying the latest weird virus to spring up out of the jungle that might be the next AIDS. You buy the necessary equipment, do the research, and complete the contract. Privatization for something that doesn’t have a real profit motive, but is necessary for national defense, huzzah!

    Then you get a contract from a private foundation to do stem cell research. You can’t use any of the equipment that you purchased with federal funds. You have to buy all new centrifuges and test tubes and everything else even though you have lots of perfectly good ones sitting around. You might even have to build a whole new lab, and there’s going to be lots of other restrictions. And if you have public and private projects going on at the same time, it ends up being like operating kosher and non-kosher kitchens simultaneously, doubling expenses and effort.

    1. Isn’t this how the Pauly Krugnuts/Timmah Geithner multiplier works in a practical application?

      1. Right. Since it’s all free money anyway, the economy would benefit if ALL grants required you to destroy ALL equipment you currently own and replace it with new equipment before starting ANY project.

        Woo hoo! Economic growth! Jobs for all!

        1. Isn’t that along the lines of forcing businesses to depreciate equipment on arbitrary schedules and making them “upgrade” their fleets on dubious science (CARB regs).

          I think a UCLA professor just got canned for stating that fact, right? I’m sure that was on H&R within the last week.

    2. Boo fucking hoo!

    3. Assume that you’ve got a privately owned lab, and you take a government contract to work on…

      So what? Those tubes and whatnot were paid for with my tax dollars. I don’t want you to have those things in the first place. See how consistently applying libertarian principles solve the problem before it becomes one?

      1. The problem with your argument is that it assumes a hypothetical pure libertarian state, rather than reality. If Congress passed a law that forbid the use of Japanese cars on public roads, it’s better to attack that law and get it repealed rather than argue about the basic concept of public funding for asphalt.

        Like it or not, there are scientific and research aspects that are specifically mandated by the Constitution, such as the ability to regulate weights and measures (Article 1, Section 8). Likewise, I don’t think many people are going to argue against the constitutionality of medical treatment for soldiers, or research within that realm.

        Given a pure, strict libertarian state, I assume that any medical care delivered to injured soldiers that utilized technology post-1788 would be strictly unconstitutional, and that said soldiers should pay for their own treatment specifically not using any stipend or payment they received from the federal government.

        1. That’s not a problem with my argument, it’s you not wanting to deal with first principles. Which is fine, I suppose, when you don’t have any.

  6. I don’t know what’s wrong about requiring Congress to amend the law. Personally, I have more of a problem with the President “artfully” getting around legislation than this ruling. If 60% of Americans support federal funding of stem cell research, revising the law shouldn’t be a huge issue.

    Personally, I wish judges would require Congress to jump through hoops like this (on a variety of issues) more often.

    1. “If 60% of Americans support federal funding of stem cell research, revising the law shouldn’t be a huge issue.”

      So, if say, a majority don’t want a mosque built, then revising the law shouldn’t be a huge issue? Or if a majority of voters in a particular state want to outlaw gay marriage then revising the law shouldn’t be a huge issue.

      Wait, what?

      1. Ummm… you do realize the difference between overturning a judge’s decision based on the constitution and one based on statute, right?

        The california decision is based on the Constitution. There is no decision in the Ground Zero case (and I’m pretty sure most people recognize the owner’s property rights are protected by the Constitution). Those require Constitutional amendment, which is far more difficult than simply revising or repealing a statute, which is all that is required for this case.

        All I am asking is that politicians vote for the practices they want. If you want to fund embryonic stem cell research, vote for it. Don’t hide your ability to fund such research behind various administrative agencies hoping to avoid taking a position on the issue. Or better yet, voting for a bill like the 1995 act, the proposing to “artfully” maneuver around it rather than changing one’s vote.

      2. If there were no first amendment, and no one cared about property rights, you might have a point.

  7. And Obama fails to deliver, again. Maybe he should have worked to repeal the 1995 law, instead of issuing executive orders.

    1. That’s hard when your party doesn’t control both houses of Congress. Oh wait…

      1. Why didn’t they just deem it to have been repealed. That seems to have worked sometime recently, but I’m sure it was just for a minor spending bill…nowhere near this level of federal dollars involved.

    2. Indeed, there was so much momentum to overturn funding bans that it’s rather difficult to understand.

    3. GWB also issued an executive order. BO was just issuing a new one to overrule that. The outcome of this may lead to the old rules under GWB to be considered illegal as well.

      Also, it’s interesting that the adult stem cells researchers have a problem with ESCR, but no problem eating the fruit from that poisoned tree.

  8. What? This again? Where’s more bullshit about the mosque?

  9. This shouldn’t be a “culture wars” issue — it should be a constitutional issue.

    The federal government has no authority to do this.

    1. Certainly. The Federal Government has no authority to fund any form of scientific research, funding scientific research being something that wasn’t included in the powers of Congress.

      Of course, if it did, it would have a perfect right to decide whether it would fund embryo-destructive research, just as it may choose whether it wants to fund whale-destructive research.

  10. This is something it will take black markets to pioneer for the time being.

    Carmine: So Dr. Hamilton, I just “found” some aborted fetuses. How about 10K per kilo?

    Dr. Hamilton: I’m a fucking foot doctor!

    Carmine: I meant cigarettes, not fetuses.

    Dr. Hamilton: Oh…in that case I’ll take 10 cartons. Thanks.

    (Carmine then visits the local Panda Express to unload some merchandise. Tomorrow, Panda’s patrons will have crappy “Chinese” “food” loaded with added “nutrients”. A blind patron will then be able to see, and a sterile whore will get knocked up by four of her customers that night. It’s ironic that aborted fetuses will lead to the accidental creation of more aborted fetuses. It looks like the supply side of this market will be self-perpetuating.)

  11. Alt-text fail, Ron. “Stem scell source.” Bland descriptive text – bad enough. Bland descriptive text with unfunny typo – worse. Snarky, lurid text, ie “This is an actual human being available for adoption,” win.

  12. Just do research with “cells formerly known as ‘stem cells.'”

  13. I just love this whole debate. If we say they’re not human, (stem cells, Jews, blacks) they’re not human. Let the research begin!

    1. The stem cells themselves aren’t human. It’s the embryo they are taken from that “is up for discussion”.

  14. the good news is that there is a lot private and state funding available for stem cell research

    State funding too? That’s “good” news? You’re the worst, Bailey.

    1. Bailey has never claimed to be a libertarian purist, especially on this issue.

  15. Co-plaintiff James L. Sherley of Boston Biomedical Research Institute wants the government to protect his Boston Biomedical Research Institute from increased competition. He is anti-competition, a corporatist, and anti-free market.
    The other plaintiffs are religious abortion nutjobs.

    1. Increased competition in stem cell research. Sherley works with a different type of stem cells and is afraid that the NIH researchers might find cures faster and better than Sherley can.
      This isn’t about government funding science, if it was, why target just one thing (embryonic stem cell research)? Its all about religious nutjobs and some guy with a grudge who wants the government to force his competitors out of business.

      1. This isn’t about government funding science, if it was, why target just one thing (embryonic stem cell research)?

        This is like asking why most anti-war activists aren’t “consistent” and fail to oppose the entire Pentagon budget, instead targeting just one thing, the war in Iraq.

  16. I’m with US court! I think this should’ve been done before. I’m also against those who say “boy or girl? you choose”, you know what they do? if parents want girls the kill the boys before they’re born. and if parents want boys then they kill girls before their birth. This is absolute crime. I don’t know how people openly practice this horrendous crime and no-one stops them.


  17. As a matter of science and policy, is not adult stem cell research the only one that shows promise of treatments that do not become cancers?

    1. If you’re referring to induced pluripotent stem cells, then no, those are much more likely to become cancer.

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