A U.S. appeals court has affirmed (.pdf) the ruling last year by district court judge Royce Lamberth that federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research is legal. Although the decision effectively puts to rest opponents' arguments that such funding violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment, at least one judge asked Congress for clarification about the power of the federal government to regulate such research.
Bioethicist Christopher Scott, who directs Stanford’s Program on Stem Cells in Society, has this to say about today's ruling:
This is a major victory for stem cell researchers. It affirms that the National Institutes of Health's interpretation of the 1996 Dickey-Wicker amendment is reasonable. Importantly, it removes a barrier of uncertainty for stem cell scientists and the patients who stand to benefit from their discoveries. The Obama administration should be congratulated for its assiduous work to guarantee that the president's policy makes the difference when the rubber meets the road: funding research that could lead to the next generation of treatments and cures.
Scott has previously published research showing that limiting human embryonic stem cell research is likely to also slow research on induced pluripotent stem cells--an alternate way to create stem cells that does not require the destruction of human embryos--because the two fields are so closely intertwined.
Science writer Maggie Fox, writing for NBC news, has posted a nice summary of the issues leading up to today's decision. But I found reading the actual text (.pdf) of the ruling to be very enlightening. In particular, Judge Janice Rogers Brown (one of three judges who ruled on the case) commented about the Dickey-Wicker amendment:
The challenging—and constantly evolving—issues presented by bioethics are critical and complex. Striking the right balance is not easy and not, in the first instance, a task for judges. What must be defended is “the integrity of science, the legitimacy of government, and the continuing vitality” of concepts like human dignity. Given the weighty interests at stake in this encounter between science and ethics, relying on an increasingly Delphic, decade-old single paragraph rider on an appropriations bill hardly seems adequate.
Previously After the lawsuit, what's next for stem cell research, Judge Lamberth dismisses stem cell lawsuit and Embryonic stem cell regulation will affect iPS cell research