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Judge halts stem-cell research

In a ruling that imperils the future of stem-cell research in the U.S., a federal judge blocked President Obama’s 2009 executive order that expanded embryonic stem-cell research.

In a ruling that cast doubt on the future of stem-cell research in the U.S., a federal judge this week blocked President Obama’s 2009 executive order that expanded embryonic stem-cell research. In responding to a lawsuit by pro-life scientists, Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that Obama’s order violated a 1996 law banning the use of federal money for any research that destroys embryos. Obama’s order had allowed federally funded research to be done on embryonic stem cells derived from surplus embryos at fertility clinics. But Lamberth ruled that this distinction was invalid, and that the law prohibits federal funding of any research involving embryo destruction. “This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work,” said Dr. George Q. Daley of Children’s Hospital Boston.

Lamberth said his decision would reinstate the “status quo.” But some scientists and lawyers said the ruling was vague and confusing, and might even prohibit research approved under the more restrictive terms of the Bush administration. The Obama administration promised to appeal.

What a “huge overreach,” said The New York Times in an editorial. If Lamberth’s ruling stands, it will be a “serious blow to medical research” and overturn the interpretation of law that has governed stem-cell research for more than a decade. The consequences for research on diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries are truly “ominous.”

We’re all eager for cures, said Adam Keiper and Yuval Levin in National Review Online. But scientific advances must go “hand in hand with respect for life and human dignity.” The law guiding the judge’s decision, the 1996 Dicky-Wicker Amendment, explicitly forbids federal funding for research in which a human embryo is destroyed. At the very least, Obama’s order violated the spirit of that law.

It’s time to end this bitter debate, said David Gibson in PoliticsDaily.com. New research suggests that adult stem cells may be at least as effective as embryonic stem cells. So instead of this endless battle over “which is the greater good—protecting nascent life or extending the lives of afflicted adults and children”—let’s work together to unlock the promise of adult stem cells.

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