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May 02, 2011

US Appeal Court reinstates Obama’s funding policy on stem cell research

by Ubaka Ogbogu

A few months ago I wrote about a temporary injunction (ban) issued by United States federal district court judge Royce C. Lamberth on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cell lines derived from supernumerary IVF embryos. Subsequently, at the request of the federal government, a U.S. appeal court suspended the injunction pending a full review of the case. On April 29, 2011, the same appeal court permanently overturned the injunction and in accordance with customary legal process, sent the case back to the Judge Lamberth for a full hearing. This means that unlike the initial injunction, which was ordered based on a preliminary hearing of the case, Judge Lamberth is obliged to hear and decide the case on its merits following full submissions of facts and arguments by the parties. Thus, while the federal government may continue to fund the affected research, the case is far from over. Also, any decision issued following a full hearing of the case can be appealed.   

As I argued in my previous posts, and as is obvious from the alternating judgments and the possibility of further appeals, the court system is not the proper venue for shaping and setting science policy. A more stable approach would be for the U.S. Congress to settle the matter definitively by promulgating comprehensive policies regarding hESC research. This is the approach taken by the Canadian government, and despite a recent successful court challenge against aspects of Canada’s embryo research legislation, a fairly stable, albeit (in my opinion) unsatisfactory, policy regime remains. 

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