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Tilting at Windmills

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August 24, 2010

STEM-CELL SETBACK CALLED 'ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING'.... Legal experts and policy specialists are still trying to sort out the implications of yesterday's preliminary injunction, but by all indications, it's a major blow to American medical research and scientific advancement.

A federal district judge on Monday blocked President Obama's 2009 executive order that expanded embryonic stem cell research, saying it violated a ban on federal money being used to destroy embryos.

The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration's new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law. Scientists scrambled Monday evening to assess the ruling's immediate impact on their work.

"I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government," said Dr. George Q. Daley, director of the stem cell transplantation program at Children's Hospital Boston, referring to food given to cells. "This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work since the Obama administration made its order."

In his ruling, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that his temporary injunction returned federal policy to the "status quo," but few officials, scientists or lawyers in the case were sure Monday night what that meant.

The court order, delivered by a notoriously conservative Reagan appointee, seems intent on turning back the clock many years. Ian Millhiser explained, "Essentially, Judge Lamberth claims that all ESC research cannot be funded because it requires scientists to build upon previous research that involved the destruction of an embryo, but it's difficult to square this decision with Supreme Court precedent. Under Chevron v. NRDC, judges are normally supposed to defer to an agency's reading of a federal law unless the agency's interpretation is entirely implausible, and the Obama administration quite plausibly read the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to only prohibit federal funding of the actual destruction of an embryo -- not federal funding of subsequent ESC research."

Certainly, the ambiguity doesn't help. Lamberth' injunction leaves unclear exactly what medical researchers are supposed to do when they show up for work this morning -- do scientists now have to operate under Bush-era rules, or does the order turn the clock back to pre-2001? Is all research regarding embryonic stem cells illegal?

Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, said the ruling was "devastating to the hopes of researchers and patients who have been waiting so long for the promise of stem cell therapies." Amy Comstock Rick, immediate past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, struck a similar note, calling yesterday's news "absolutely devastating."

"We were really looking forward to research finally moving forward with the full backing of the NIH. We were really looking forward to the next chapter when human embryonic stem cells could really be explored for their full potential. This really sets us back," Rick said. "Every day we lose is another day lost for patients waiting for cures."

Others can speak to the legal proceedings with more expertise than I can, and it was at least somewhat heartening to see one lawyer weigh in describing the judge's order as "quite vulnerable; it's not on solid ground at all."

I'd just note as an aside, though, that the breakdown in the Senate's ability to fill judicial vacancies often has sweeping national and international implications -- in the matter of medical research, possibly even issues of life and death.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Fuck the Neanderthal judge and do the research anyway. The administration isn't going to conduct widespread arrests of scientists no matter how much the howler monkeys and their MSM enablers fling poo about it.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on August 24, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I may be wrong, but it was my understanding that some of these embryos are usually discarded, so if we do not use them for research what method is used to discard them - do they flush them down the toilet?
We use human organs for transplant, isn't it better to use these for research in how to preserve human life?

Posted by: js on August 24, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

If the Obama administration was willing to fight instead of cutting deals to find a "middle ground" I'd suggest that a confrontation be set up where legislation be drafted so that Congress could vote for restrictions -- but, if the restrictions pass then members of Congress who vote for it, along with all their descendants, would be forever barred from receiving medical treatments derived from embryonic stem cell research.


Posted by: SteveT on August 24, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Are we back to this stupid argument AGAIN?
Your DisHonor, they throw the f***ing things out anyway.
This is like back in the Middle Ages when doctors had to sneak out in the dead of night to dig up corpses so that they could study anatomy.

I can't take it anymore. Everywhere I look, stupid people, getting stupider by the day...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on August 24, 2010 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

Judicial activism on steroids.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on August 24, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

my thoughts are with Dr. Morpheus; i can just imagine Cheney's explicative laden retort to the judge.

"I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government," said Dr. George Q. Daley,

-and who can tell if the media was federally funded? Bar codes on the little eggs? And does the judge have his own gestapo, poised to batter down doors? Tell your people to carry their research, Dr. Daley!

Posted by: Day on August 24, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps if we referred to them as "soldier embryos" that "gave the ultimate sacrifice" to their countryman, the right would be more at ease with this research. I mean if 4,500 U.S. service personnel sacrificed to a neocon wet dream is okay with them than why not a single "would be discarded anyway" embryo?

Posted by: SWENXOF on August 24, 2010 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

The kicker is the FEDERAL FUNDING.

Big pharma, currently rolling in cash with profits out the ol' wazoo, could be doing stem cell research even as we speak - but for some reason, they won't twitch unless we taxpayers pay for it.

Can't cut into those executive bonuses, eh?

The ban on federal funding ought to be IRRELEVANT in a capitalist economy with no limits to what people are willing to pay for medical treatment.

Posted by: zandru on August 24, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: FRP on August 24, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

SWENXOF writes:

"I mean if 4,500 U.S. service personnel sacrificed to a neocon wet dream is okay with them than why not a single "would be discarded anyway" embryo?"

revealing a serious understanding of the right wing's love affair with the military.

The dead soldiers were volunteers, unlike the embryo. It's okay to kill volunteers.

Posted by: zandru on August 24, 2010 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus @ 8:11

The administration isn't going to conduct widespread arrests of scientists no matter how much the howler monkeys and their MSM enablers fling poo about it.

Leaving aside whether it's really in the long-term interests of this country that we start disregarding judicial decisions we don't like, I have only one comment to make about your prescription: This administration isn't going to do that. Should these researchers be asked to bet that no radical reactionary Republican administration is ever elected again?

Posted by: Bernard Gilroy on August 24, 2010 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

"I'd just note as an aside, though, that the breakdown in the Senate's ability to fill judicial vacancies often has sweeping national and international implications -- in the matter of medical research, possibly even issues of life and death."

Apparently, that was our fault for electing an OBVIOUS liberal to the White House. You want progress? Vote Republican. Then all those judicial slots will be immediately filled...with neocon reactionaries who will also do their part to de-evolve us back to horse-n-buggy days.

Posted by: slappy magoo on August 24, 2010 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Big pharma, currently rolling in cash with profits out the ol' wazoo, could be doing stem cell research even as we speak - but for some reason, they won't twitch unless we taxpayers pay for it.

Just so you know - Big Pharma does shit for basic research and generally always have. Their research plans are mostly about product research not basic research, outside of a few scholarships here or there for grad students and a few projects to try to find the next Viagra. And right now stem cell research is all in the "basic research" mix.

You want basic research done, you fund it through either the NSF or DARPA. That's about the only way any basic research gets done at all, because it's incredibly speculative stuff and there's no guarantee of a payout in the short term that CEOs want to invest money in it.

The capitalist model is awful for basic research. It's great for targetted, short term research where the payout is obvious and attainable, or for researching engineering tweaks, but it's lousy for funding the kind of basic "how does biology work" stuff that you need before you can start doing the short term targetted research.

Posted by: NonyNony on August 24, 2010 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

The Obama administration should respond by cracking down on embryo-wasting fertility clinics.

Posted by: Ugly Moe on August 24, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

The key here is the word "research." Nothing scares conservatives more than people learning stuff. About things.

Posted by: chrenson on August 24, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

This is a judicial activist decision and meant to be a political bomb by a very political judge.

If you go over to TPM, you will find a comment from a law professor that points out that the ruling is based on a very narrow reading of the 1990's law. The professor goes on to cite a point of administrative law that holds that the underlying law must not be open to divergent interpretation.
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2010/08/one_law_profs_opinion.php#more?ref=fpblg

In particular, with this law the clear understanding up to this point was the government financing must not be the immediate cause of the destruction of an embryo. Lambeth extends this language ad infinitum back 20-30 years in some cases. GW Bush did not even go this far, allowing established lines to be used. Obviously there are two interpretations and the ruling will fall like a house of cards upon appeal.

Posted by: OKDem on August 24, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else see the destruction of the US by the very conservatives that pretend to be such SUPER PATRIOTS? They are not trying to lead they are trying to take over and make everyone else toe the line. Not in MY lifetime...

Posted by: SYSPROG on August 24, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

It's my understanding this ruling has to do with federal funding, not permission to do research on the private dime. Private funds for this research is not and has never been the issue.

If ESC was such a sure fired winner, how come private companies aren't rushing to provide the funds to make a financial gain?

Private enterprise thinks it's unprofitable and a loser. They know all the promise and gains have been with adult stem cells.

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Posted by: gaga94 on August 24, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe some of that money for embryonic stem cell research can go to adult stem cell research. The latter has actually produced advances in medicines and treatments. The former has not.

Posted by: GoldBricker on August 24, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Researchers in the rest of the world who do not operate under these ridiculous constraints will continue to do the cutting edge research and also bring in the grant money. The conservative crowd seems determined to turn the U.S. into a third rate scientific power. Innovation was once the hallmark of American science. Now we are turning innovation in wind power, solar power, battery technology etc. over to other countries because it seems more important to prop up the oil industry. This will not end well.

Posted by: Tired Liberal on August 24, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Read this decision -- it is clearly a conclusion in search of a justification. An injunction requires, among other things, that the parties be at serious risk of irreparable harm without immediate relief.

The plaintiffs in the case are two scientists who work on adult stem cells. Their claim, honestly, was that NIH funding for embryonic stem cells competes with funding for adult stem cells. So their careers would suffer irreparable harm if hESC funding is not suspended. The judge bought it.

Posted by: jb on August 24, 2010 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I have read some of the ruling and read some of the more reasoned articles about it. Here is an aspect i don't get. I get fed $ to do research. I do not sue the fed govt when they decide to fund things in fields that will reduce the amount in my field, which is one of the issues raised in this ruling. The judge ruled on behalf of researchers who work on adult stem cells, because they might be cut out if more people work on more productive lines. What kind of logic is this? One has to believe that other judges will find this ludacrious.

Posted by: bigtuna on August 24, 2010 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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