By Gajewski, Karen Ann
The Humanist , Vol. 61, No. 4
United States. Executive Office of the President--Cases
Stem Cell Transplantation
Medical Research Assistance--Cases
Reeve, Christopher (American actor)--Cases
A lawsuit was filed May 29, 2001, in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia against Tommy G. Thompson, in his capacity as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, in her capacity as acting director of the National Institutes of Health, charging the Bush administration with illegally withholding funds from research that could lead to a cure for paralysis and other devastating conditions and diseases. The lawsuit, brought by actor Christopher Reeve and seven scientists, argues that Thompson and Kirschstein have violated the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, which "prohibits the executive branch from withholding funding for human pluripotent stem cell research and contravenes the defendants' statutory duty to fund scientifically meritorious research projects."
The lawsuit points out that "there is a long tradition in biomedical research of utilizing fetal tissue to develop life-saving techniques." For example, the 1954 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to U.S. immunologists who developed the polio vaccine based on cultures of human fetal kidney cells. Despite this history, research was halted in 1988 by a moratorium on federal funding of research involving transplantation of fetal tissue. President Clinton, however, ordered the ban lifted in January 1993, and the NIH Revitalization Act issued later that year "affirmatively prohibits the executive branch of government from interfering with research involving human fetal tissue." After extensive congressional hearings and debate, the NIH published its final Guidelines for Research Using Human Pluripotent Stem Cells on August 25, 2000, providing, among other things, that NIH funds may be used for stem cell research.
According to the lawsuit, "The defendants' failure to implement the guidelines and begin the process for federal funding of human pluripotent stem cell research has caused, is causing, and will continue to cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and the public interest." And the public is interested. A nationwide poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation International found that 74 percent of those queried favor federal funding of stem cell research by the NIH.
Stem cell research also has the support of the medical community. Scientists first isolated stem cells, the master cells for human development, in 1998 and believe that they could hold the key to curing spinal cord injuries, heart disease, juvenile diabetes, cancer, ALS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and many other afflictions. On January 17, 2001, 123 patient, research, and academic institutions wrote to George W. Bush expressing their strong support for federal funding of stem cell research. In March a new advocacy group--the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research--was organized specifically to ensure that federal funds are available for embryonic stem cell research and that the NIH guidelines overseeing the research are supported. Among the founding members of the CAMR are the American Society for Cell Biology, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, the Parkinson's Action Network, Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin, Washington University at St. …