Setbacks in Stem Cell Research Policy

May 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Even though the ban has been lifted on embryonic stem cell research, progress in this field continues to remain at a standstill.

Legislation is currently underway in Michigan that would require public universities doing the research to report some information to the state. The data would have to include how many human embryos are used for research,  the number of human embryos and human embryo stem cell lines received by the university in the current fiscal year, the number of stem cell lines created, the number of embryos held in storage, and the number of research projects underway.

State Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, who supports the reporting requirements, said he wants to bring transparency to stem cell research through provisions in the higher education budget.

“It is important to know where the human embryonic stem cells are coming from and where they’re being generated,” he told the Holland Sentinel. “We want to make sure the embryos are legal — that they didn’t come to us through the black market.”

Governor Rick Snyder’s legal counsel sent a letter this week to Republican legislative leaders saying that in his opinion the provision would be unconstitutional and unenforceable, indicating the provision would conflict with a voter-approved constitutional amendment to expressly permit stem cell research. Reporting or limiting the research would not be allowed under this amendment.

There has also been an update regarding Sherley et al. v. Sebelius et al., the lawsuit challenging federal taxpayer funding of human embryonic stem cell research. A Motion was filed on May 18, 2011, to allow both sides to file supplemental briefs with the U.S. District Court. This motion to provide additional information to the Court was agreed upon by both sides. These briefs and supplemental information is about two additional arguments that were made by the plaintiffs challenging hESC funding. First, they contended that hESC research was also prohibited under the  separate prohibition in Dickey-Wicker against federal funding of research in which human embryos are “knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero[.]” The plaintiffs argued that funding for hESC research endangered embryos by creating a demand for additional stem-cell lines and therefore increasing the chances that a particular embryo might be used as a source of stem cells. Second, they contended that when the National Institutes of Health had adopted the new funding rules for hESC research, it had violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs rulemaking by federal agencies.

A similar previous motion filed on May 9 was opposed by the Department of Justice. The motions follow the April 29 decision by the Appeals Court to vacate the preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in August 2010. While the Appeals Court ruling maintained the status quo regarding the flow of federal taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research, there are still a number of issues to be resolved, awaiting the decision of Judge Lamberth.

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