Although I am, if you'll pardon the pun, agnostic on the question of embryonic stem cell research, Federal Judge Royce Lamberth caused an earthquake in the stem cell research industry yesterday with his ruling that Barack Obama's 2009 executive order allowing renewed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was illegal.
Lamberth's argument seems to be that even working with cells harvested from previously destroyed embryos would not satisfy the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment's requirement that federal funding not go toward "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero..."
As with many issues which cause liberals and conservatives to howl at each other, one lesson of this situation should be -- and almost certainly won't be -- that government needs to get out of so many areas in which it has unconstitutionally involved itself.
Remember, the issue here is not whether embryonic stem cell research is legal; it's whether it should be funded by the federal government. Regardless of one's view on the morality of the research, I am yet to find the article of the Constitution which permits the federal government to fund it.
As if to highlight the point, you may (or, if a cynic about government like me, may not) be surprised to learn who the lead plaintiffs were in the lawsuit filed against Obama's executive order allowing the resumption of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Focus on the Family? Nope. Dick Cheney? Nope.
The plaintiffs (at least the only ones who weren't removed by a lower court for lack of standing) were two scientists whose work involves research on adult stem cells and who didn't want to have to compete with researchers on embryonic cells for limited federal research funds. Judge Lamberth issued his preliminary injunction against federal funding for the embryonic cell research, citing the likelihood of "irreparable harm to the plaintiffs" as well as "public interest considerations."
Yes, Judge Lamberth is a conservative judge and I would bet that he personally opposes embryonic stem cell research, but conservatives should not think yesterday's ruling is unvarnished good news. It represents nothing more and nothing less than two different groups of scientists using the power of government to decide who has a bigger claim on your money. And that, rather than the issue of who, if anyone, will pay for stem cell research, is the real problem.
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