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Stem Cell Ruling Renews Bioethics Debate

The White House and other commentators weigh in

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Today, a U.S. judge ruled that taxpayer dollars can, in fact, be used to support embryonic stem cell research. President Obama had lifted restrictions on federal funding in 2009 but two scientists sued the federal government claiming that the freeing up of funds "violated a 1996 law that prevented federal money from being used toward any work that harms or destroys embryos." With the legal cloud lifted over government funding, a bioethics debate over stem cells has re-emerged even roping in the White House. Here's what commentators are saying:

This is a victory for patients and research, writes Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president, on the White House blog: "While we don’t know exactly what stem cell research will yield, scientists believe this research could treat or cure diseases that affect millions of Americans every year. That’s why President Obama has long fought to support responsible stem cell research... For too long, patients and families have suffered from debilitating, incurable diseases and we know that stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans across the country. President Obama is committed to supporting responsible stem cell research and today’s ruling was another step in the right direction."

Funding this research is still a moral problem, writes John Hayward at Human Events: "There are two very distinct kinds of stem-cell research.  Some of it is conducted on adult stem cell lines, while other researchers want to use embryonic stem cells.  Obtaining embryonic stem cells for scientific research involves creating human embryos with in vitro fertilization, then destroying them to isolate the stem cell lines. This is morally objectionable to many people, so they don’t want their compulsory tax money used to fund it."

This is a moral choice, says Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and evangelical Christian. He spoke with the USA Today editorial board today:

Is it more ethical to use the 400,000 frozen embryos that will never be drawn out of fertility clinic freezers for "for a benevolent purpose or to discard them?"

That's the question Francis Collins... former head of the U.S. human genome program and an evangelical Christian, raised Tuesday at a USA TODAY editorial board meeting. He takes a strong moral stance on this -- in favor of the "breathtaking" prospects for scientific discovery with use of embryonic stem cells within political and moral guidelines.

This should be settled by now, writes John Timmer at Ars Technica:

Although the plaintiffs may consider an appeal, there seems to be little ground for one that the Appeals Court hasn't already trodden upon. Thus, this case has probably neared the end of its life. Nevertheless, it has set a significant precedent in the District Court of Columbia, in that scientists have been granted grounds to sue for policies that put their research at a funding disadvantage. I expect that others will eventually seek to take advantage of that precedent.

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