Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Shirley vs. Seblius, which challenged the federal government's right to fund research on human embryonic stem cells. This is good news for stem cell researchers. I asked Stanford law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely, JD, about the verdict, and he told me this morning:
At last, it's over! To call Sherley v. Sebelius our long national nightmare is a bit of an overstatement, except as to those keenly interested in pluripotent stem cell research. This case, filed in August 2009, should have been thrown out by October 2009. (Ironically, the district court judge did try to throw it out then, but used what the appellate court considered the wrong approach.) But, at long last, after 41 months of uncertainty, leavened with occasional shock and panic, the case is dead. The Supreme Court has, not surprisingly, denied review of the decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upheld the district court's summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
And so it is finally established that, no, Congress did not, in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, as re-passed every year since 1996, try to outlaw the positions taken by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration. Funding human embryonic stem cell research does not violate the NIH appropriations provisions. It does, however, still rest within the discretion of the sitting President. That seems safe for the next four years; it would be good if Congress could pass legislation expressly supporting such research for the four, and eight, and twelve, years beyond that.