Embryonic Stem Wars Update: Feds Can Fund Research


Timothy Atchison, First patient treated with embryonic stem cells

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has definitively ruled the the feds can fund human embryonic stem cell research. An earlier ruling by a district court judge declared that the research violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment which prohibits using taxpayer dollars for research that harms human embryos. As I reported earlier,

Back in September, the Obama administration persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to temporarily lift the injunction, allowing federal funding to continue for now. That three-judge court ruled two to one that such funding does not violate federal law. The court's opinion [PDF], written by Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg concludes:

Two scientists brought this suit to enjoin the National Institutes of Health from funding research using human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) pursuant to the NIH's 2009 Guidelines. The district court granted their motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding they were likely to succeed in showing the Guidelines violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an appropriations rider that bars federal funding for research in which a human embryo is destroyed. We conclude the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded that, although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an ESC from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC will be used. We therefore vacate the preliminary injunction.

This is unlikely to be the last word in the ongoing fight over stem cells.

In other news, the first patient, Timothy J. Atchison of Chatom, Ala.,  to be treated for spinal cord injuries using embryonic stem cells was revealed in April. It's too soon to tell if the treatment is working.

Disclosure: I own a couple hundred shares of Geron that I purchased using my own funds and so far I've only lost money on that investment.

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  1. Despite the wheelchair and the puppy, there’s still no actual enumerated power for this spending, right?

    1. Already win.

      1. Agreed, Colonel_Angus.

    2. Well who do you trust to allocate funding for research? Evil profit-seeking venture capitalists that want to make viable products or unelected bureaucrats with close ties to lobbiests and pork projects?

    3. This is probably the one thing I’d complain the least about in terms of illegitimate spending. Stem cell research funded at above market demand could speed up the time coming when I can knock out all my smell old teeth and replace them with nice, new ones.

      1. They’ve got a pretty good lead on ultrasound for this.

    4. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;

      1. The Congress shall have Power.

        1. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States


        2. To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States


        3. To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States

          1. just how long are you?

      2. Spoof?

        You can’t really be arguing this is constitutional. You can certaintly formulate an argument that it is a good thing

        1. …That was weird. I was halfway through typing my comment and it submitted.

          Continued: You can certainly formulate an argument that it is a good thing, or that it is something that the SC is going to allow, but those are different arguments.

      3. So in your mind, there is nothing the Congress can’t do as long as they justify it as being in the General Welfare?

        1. There’s plenty that the government can’t do, but what they can do is spend tax money on anything the Congress deems is conducive of the general welfare or common defence.

          For example, it can’t have a nationwide drinking age, but it can condition interstate funds on states setting such an age.

          Some of the first things our federal government did was to pay for ‘internal improvements’ though an explicit power to make them is not granted by the Constitution. It must have been thought of as under the spending power.

  2. NEM: No. But I should point out that the stems installed in Atchison come from a private company in which I have invested, not the government.

    1. Which was, of course, never banned.

      Although perhaps you’re pointing out that your conflict of interest is that the private companies might (or might not) be better off without government competition? (Assuming that you’re not one of those “the private medical companies just take easy profits from federal research” guys.)

      Not a surprising ruling, since the GWB Administration had already let some research occur on ESC lines from certain already destroyed embryos. They had already interpreted the law as only forbidding paying for embryo destruction.

  3. NEM: That would be “the stem cells installed” …

  4. If we had been funding this shot all along we would have caught Bin Laden years ago.

  5. “Disclosure: I own a couple hundred shares of Geron that I purchased using my own funds and so far I’ve only lost money on that investment.”

    If you still hold the shares, you have yet to lose money.

    1. Gibby: I live in hope or I am another victim of the sunk cost fallacy.

  6. We can’t harvest enough fetuses.

    1. but our harvests of people are enormous

  7. I thought this was becoming a non-issue due to advances in the use of adult stem cells.

    1. Using adult stem cells is like drinking a bottle of soda you found sticking out of a dead bum’s asshole. Despite what Episiarch tells you, fresh is better.

    2. We tried using adolescent stem cells, but they wouldn’t work without the adult stem cells financially supporting their daring stands of independent operation.

      I can recall having discussions with liberal friends outraged over the federal funding and reminding them that private funding was still legal and widely available. Blank stares and crickets.

      1. And in fact state funding was also legal and widely available.

      2. private funding was still legal and widely available. Blank stares and crickets.

        Maybe the blank stares were in response to the lack of any rational reason why the federal government as well should not engage in this potentially helpful research among all the like research they do engage in. For a clump of cells that is likely going to get trashed anyway? That will induce some blank stares indeed.

        1. If you feel so strongly about it, then use your own fucking money to fund it and stop stealing mine to fund it. I’ll return the favor when it comes to one of my pet interests.

          FWIW, I don’t have any objections to the research beyond the extracted tax money being used for it.

        2. I should add that, to a person, they equated banning federal funding to banning research altogether.

          I need better informed friends.

        3. hmm, maybe because my tax dollars shouldn’t support someone else’s decisions?

          1. Well that applies to all federally funded research. Strange that this one gets so much attention (cue the clump of cells) from paleos and conservatives.

            1. Right, so fuck all of that research.

    3. Nope, induced pluripotent cells are a useful research tool but they don’t have the same abilities and a probable cancer risk.

      Adult bone marrow derived stem cells still have a lot of promise for certain applications. e.g. repair of cardiac tissue, neo-vascularisation, and repair of articular cartilage.

  8. ah huh, just like trump’s black friends

    1. trump doesn’t have friends unless you count aqua-net.

  9. I’m a pre-med student and also an avowed libertarian. My advisor likes to point out that libertarian politicians like Ron Paul would defund NIH and the NFS. Needless to say, it’s kinda straining our friendship. But I yield my points for the sake of friendship and for the fact that I’m attending a public university.

    Do any libertarians out there also have trouble reconciling your political convictions with NIH research?

    1. You dont respond with “Good! Now you can get a real fucking job”?

    2. By the way, my plan for reconciling my political convictions with my choice of university was to give back the money I stole from taxpayers to fund my public education.

      Does anybody have any suggestions for how I could do this?

      1. Do you fret over how you will repay McDonald’s when you use your coupon for a free Big Mac to buy just the Big Mac, rather than the drink and fries they were plainly expecting you to buy?

        If someone offers you a deal that is totally slanted in your favor, it’s not your fault for accepting it.

        1. Interesting point, but it does seem like its rationalizing unlawful behavior.

        2. Tulpa

          Do you think that way about buying stolen goods?

          1. MNG,

            If you argument is that this proves that taxation isn’t theft or whatever, then consider that pretty much everyone on Earth would agree that conquering and stealing land is wrong, yet lives on land that ultimately was stolen.

            1. nope – we reclaimed our land from the n sea

              1. Stolen from the crab people!

            2. I’m still not sure how this is going to help you get out of the trap. If taxation is theft then taking taxpayer money is recieving stolen goods. We can talk about stolen land tomorrow (or we could not the time period between the two “thefts”).

          2. I don’t think taxation is theft.

      2. Start a foundation that provides scholarships to private institutions for like-minded individuals, so they never have to feel the conflict that you do.

        FWIW, you paid tuition out of pocket and your taxes paid for part of it as well. Add to the fact that the lavish gummint education spending makes it more expensive than it should be and your net sponging is probably less than you think.

        1. He really is a great guy. I just get the impression that he thinks that libertarians “don’t care about the crack-babies.” What’s strange though is that I can get him to agree with me that Ron Paul is right on everything except NIH funding and that he disagrees with Obama on more than than NIH funding. It just that one issue that he’s focused on.

          And the guy is BRILLIANT. He’s truly among the best researchers, not only in my university, but in my STATE! I really want to make peace with him on this issue, but it does get quite awkward when I talk to him about it.

          1. Did I say “state,” I meant “nation” or possibly even “world”!

          2. Then don’t talk to him about it. Use him for his strengths and move on. There’s no upside to talking politics at work, especially with people who potentially hold your future in their hands.

            Of course, I too argued endlessly with professors when I was in college, but none of them had the advisor relationship with me. Some of them liked the good fight, whether they agreed with it or not, but some didn’t care for having their beliefs challenged in class by an uppity student.

            1. If only I could shut up. I’m so open with him because I thought my conflicted nature about power and force would show him that I’m compassionate when it comes to issues.

              But I honestly don’t talk to him much about these things. It just comes up, you know? It’s weird how unavoidable it is. But I think we are still on pretty good terms. I’m just so puzzled by his response to my convictions.

              1. When it comes up, just smile and nod. It’s good practice for marriage.

                1. except that achtung gets to graduate

      3. Take what education you receive, bring it to the private sphere and make something fucking useful.

        Then make donations with your profit to make up the difference.

        1. Good idea. Mad libertarian guy, you’re pretty dadgum smart.

    3. I swear to god, each time we have a heart-to-heart discussion on politics, he seems to settle for the guy who supports the NIH funding, whereas I’m more concerned that the guy who’s supporting the NIH funding is also the guy that’s bombing the shit out of other countries, dismantling our 1st, 2nd, 4th, 10th, and 13th amendments, and spending like a motherfucker.

      1. See how perverse incentives make people into big government lovers?

        “Well, that’s all okay as long as I have a job.”

        1. I could live in a world where NIH and NSF were the ONLY two pieces of unauthorized government spending in the budget because I like science and I realize how cheap it is in comparison to the defense budget.

          But it would never stop there. The government would ask for more and more of us to fund more and more stupid projects.

          And wasn’t the only reason the government got into massive science education was to build weapons?:


          How does that heal the sick? Sheesh, I have got to have more patience with people.

          1. Achtung: Some economists argue that there will be underinvestment in scientific research because private firms fear that they cannot recoup the costs of their discoveries. When I interviewed Stanford economist Paul Romer, he had some interesting things to say about that issue, including:

            “Think about the basic science that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. There are some kinds of ideas where, once those ideas are uncovered, you’d like to make them as broadly available as possible, so everybody in the world can put them to good use. There we find it efficient to give those ideas away for free and encourage everybody to use them. If you’re going to be giving things away for free, you’re going to have to find some system to finance them, and that’s where government support typically comes in.

            In the next century we’re going to be moving back and forth, experimenting with where to draw the line between institutions of science and institutions of the market. People used to assign different types of problems to each institution. “Basic research” got government support; for “applied product development,” we’d rely on the market. Over time, people have recognized that that’s a pretty artificial distinction. What’s becoming more clear is that it’s actually the combined energies of those two sets of institutions, often working on the same problem, that lead to the best outcomes.”

            That being said, you may want to read my column on “The Failure of Centralized Scientific Planning.”

            1. Thanks, Ron.

          2. It’s ok in short time there won’t be any money for his pet projects or your pet problems.

      2. He votes in his own self-interest. That’s not too surprising and most people do that.

        Of course, if you have any real principles, that decision will cause some chafing.

      3. , he seems to settle for the guy who supports the NIH funding, whereas I’m more concerned that the guy who’s supporting the NIH funding is also the guy that’s bombing the shit out of other countries, dismantling our 1st, 2nd, 4th, 10th, and 13th amendments, and spending like a motherfucker.

        So, considering the enormous growth in NIH funding from 2000 to 2004, as well as the rest of this (well, maybe not the 2nd Amendment), he must have voted for GWB in 2004, right?

    4. It really hurts to apply for NSF grants, but I make peace with the contradiction by recalling how much I’ve paid in taxes.

      1. What is it that you do, Tulpa?

        1. He is a rag-picker behind the supermarket. The NSF will finance just about anything these days.

        2. Applied mathematics research, finite elements division.

        3. Applied mathematics research.

        4. Mathematics

          1. Pencil and paper don’t come cheap, huh?

    5. I don’t benefit from any NIH money, though I do love me some science. I have no trouble reconciling. Shut it down.

      More applicable to me is NASA. I’m an aerospace engineer and honestly believe manned space exploration is the most necessary thing for our survival as a species (and it’ll help libertarianism too), so I should love NASA. I still say shut it down. It’s not authorized, its wasteful, and it hasn’t even done anything for decades (okay, the exoplanet work in the past view years is an exception to that). My colleagues were bewildered when they talked about the last shuttle launch and how it was an end of era or whatever and I replied with “Good riddance.” Let millionaire dot-com moguls fund it all if they want.

      1. NASA’s limited Constitutional functions could be rolled into the Department of War.

    6. Why not have, say, a collective of hospitals and universities privately fund and collectively share and advances that come out of said hospitals and universities. It would be, well, just like NIH, but funded by private dollars.

      1. The poor can’t afford it and the rich don’t care about the crack babies.

        1. The prestige factor of being part of the Health Innovators of America wouldn’t do it?

        2. You need to explain what you mean by “the crack babies.”

    7. It is a pickle that I haven’t fully comprehended yet.

  10. Cheers to Ron Bailey for standing up against threaded comments! Stick it to the man!

  11. The New Jersey state budget includes a fund for stem cell research. There is also a state law forbidding reproductive cloning. So, chopping up a clone for spare parts is fine, but giving birth to one if verboden.

    1. It’s all consistent if you assume clones have no souls. Is it legal to kill identical twins in New Jersey?

  12. OK, so because NIH thinks it’s legal it’s legal? That seems to be the court’s logic.

    1. Chevron deference

  13. Disclosure: I own a couple hundred shares of Geron that I purchased using my own funds and so far I’ve only lost money on that investment.

    With whom else’s funds could you have purchased the stock? Your friends’? A neighbor’s? Those fat cats in Washington?

    1. They could have been given to him as an in-kind payment for editorial placement on the blog of certain libertarian magazine.

    2. Club: Without the disclosure, it is my sad experience that some folks might think that I am a bought and paid for shill for Big Biotech.

      In any case, I am writing about a company in which I have invested, so I think it’s mandatory that I tell readers that.

      1. The Kochtopus shares with no one.

      2. No, I get the general theory behind the disclosures, Ron, and I always look forward to them (since you’re the only one that seems to actually enjoy crafting them in unique ways). I just thought the “using my own funds” line was curious, since–as somebody who’s still in too much student loan debt to invest myself–I just sort of assumed that people used their own funds to buy their stock.

  14. Club: Presumably you used the student loans to invest in yourself, right?

  15. Hi,
    I’m a stem cell scientist and I thought this was an interesting article. I discuss this kind of stuff on my lab’s stem cell blog including issues related to biotech investing. http://www.ipscell.com

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