In rejecting a challenge to President Obama's policy to continue embryonic stem cell research, the Supreme Court wisely chose Monday to further vital research over the interests of competing scientists and religious groups.
The court did not issue a decision. Instead, it rejected a petition to hear arguments in an appeal of a 2011 ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which decided the National Institutes of Health could continue embryonic stem cell research from lines derived from already destroyed embryos.
Not surprisingly, it appears that the scientists who challenged the ruling had their own interests, not science, at heart. The two researchers work primarily on adult stem cell lines -- another form of stem cells with less potential for taking the shape of the host cells around them than do embryonic stem cells. Their success would have steered more federal dollars their way.
Other critics of the ruling, such as the Law of Life Project, claim that there are ethical issues with embryonic stem cell research, that it encourages the destruction of fertilized embryos and therefore destroys life. They are misinformed.
According to the appeals court's ruling, the embryonic stem cells in question are derived from other stem cells, not a brand new batch of destroyed fertilized embryos. They're like a photocopy of a photocopy, not photocopies from some brand new original. Current law bans funding of stem cell research that would destroy human embryos. What we're talking about in this case are human embryos destroyed long ago, with the stem cells used today split off from the original stem cells created back then.
The ethical argument is 11 years too late and the scientific argument is weak. Researchers should be encouraging more avenues of exploration, not less. If they're worried about competing for federal dollars to fund their research, too bad. The full value of stem cell research, be it from embryos or from adult stem cells or any other source, has yet to be realized. The fewer hurdles the government puts in the way of research that could ultimately lead to treatments for ailments including Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries, the better.
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