Ban on stem cell research returns as a hot-button political issue

test tubes in stem cell research

The justice department will appeal a judge's decision reinstating a ban on stem cell research that promises to be an issue in upcoming midterm elections. Dinesh Cyanam/Flickr photo.

A ban on stem cell research is back in the limelight, just in time for the midterm elections. A U.S. district judge once again blocked federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on Aug. 23. Researchers backed by Christian organizations sued to overturn an executive order issued by President Obama permitting federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Obama’s executive order overturned a ban imposed by George W. Bush in 2001. By siding with the plaintiffs, the judge derailed planned research on cures for diseases like diabetes, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. The scientific community is outraged. The administration is planning an appeal. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are contemplating the usefulness of the issue.

Stem cell research set back 10 years

A judge’s decision to renew the ban on federally funded embryonic stem cell research caught the scientific community by surprise. The suit was brought by Nightlight Christian Adoptions and other religious organizations. A pair of researchers claimed that directing federal funds for embryonic stem cell research discriminated against scientists using adult stem cells. A U.S. News and World Report article said that the temporary injunction cripples embryonic stem cell research by setting it back 10 years. Susan Solomon, CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, told U.S. News that the court decision “allows a vocal minority to hold science hostage to a narrow political agenda.”

Politicians examine how to exploit stem cell issue

The Justice Department said it will appeal the judge’s decision. The Wall Street Journal reports that supporters of embryonic stem cell research in Congress are exploring ways to maintain federal funding. Political operatives are exploring the utility of the issue. A Republican strategist told the Journal that stem cell research may help motivate loyal anti-abortion voters, but jobs will get more attention. The issue could help Democrats, because embryonic stem-cell research is supported by a majority of Americans. The stem cell dustup may help President Obama as he works to frame the the midterm elections as a choice between moving the country forward or backward.

Stem cell research law

The Justice Department said the administration would ask the district court to put its ruling on hold while the appeals court considers the issue. In a comment submitted on the U.S. News article, Marco Bolo of Colorado said that the judge based his ruling on a law banning federal funds for research using embryos that has been on the books since 1996. Bolo contends that Obama can’t overturn existing legislation and that the judge is simply enforcing the law. For embryonic stem cell research to continue, it’s as simple as Congress changing the law.

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