Missing voices in the stem cell debates

MADISON, WI -  MARCH 10:  Jessica Dias, associate research specialist, at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on March 10, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin.  On March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama signed an order reversing the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem cell research. Scientists at the University Wisconsin-Madison, who were the first to experiment in finding cures to neurological and muscular diseases through stem cell research, are now hoping to receive federal funding to aid in their work. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Reuters has a story about a U.S. district court ruling that may interest GetReligion readers. The lede explains what's going on best:

A U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction on Monday stopping federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, in a slap to the Obama administration's new guidelines on the sensitive issue.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth granted the injunction because he found that the doctors who challenged the policy would likely succeed because U.S. law blocked federal funding of embryonic stem cell research if the embryos were destroyed.

"(Embryonic stem cell) research is clearly research in which an embryo is destroyed," Lamberth wrote in a 15-page ruling. The Obama administration could appeal his decision or try to rewrite the guidelines to comply with U.S. law.

I remember the time when reporters had trouble using any modifier when talking about stem cell research. By failing to explain that it was the research that destroyed human embryos that was controversial, it made opponents of that practice seem like they were opposed to all stem cell research. So first off, I simply want to thank Reuters for clearly explaining that the injunction in question deals with human embryonic stem cell research. These are helpful details. And the lede is just nicely written -- it's clear, to the point, and gets the most important details up high.

Now, you don't have to be Catholic or religiously traditional to oppose stem cell research that destroys human embryos but those groups have carried a lot of water in the ethical battles over the practice. Indeed, the story explains that they brought the suit:

The suit against the National Institutes of Health, backed by some Christian groups opposed to embryo research, had argued the administration's policy violated U.S. law and took funds from researchers seeking to work with adult stem cells.

And some of these people are quoted in the article. Reuters tried to get the White House, the Justice Department and NIH to comment but they all deferred or refused. Having covered the federal government for many years, this is not surprising.

Still, I really wish the story would have done something to get a balancing perspective in there. As it is, everything is weighted heavily in favor of the ruling. We get good information about the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that bans the use of federal funds to destroy human embryos. And we get a nice timeline of when this became a problem and of Obama's moves in support of stem cell research that destroys embryos. There's even a nice discussion of how the plaintiffs overcame legal objections to whether they had standing to bring the suit.

But there's precisely no comment from people who don't believe the NIH guidelines violate federal law. Certainly there's someone outside of the administration who could speak to this. So while the story does a great job of getting religion, it really does need some more balance. I'd be certain to point it out if it went the other way -- failing to get the religious voice. I'd like to know if this case is as cut and dry as the story makes it seem.

There is this odd paragraph:

Many stem cell researchers objected, saying they could not do work needed to fulfill the promise of the powerful cells, which can give rise to all the tissues and cells in the human body. Privately funded researchers could do as they pleased, but federal funding is the cornerstone of such basic biological research.

I think that the latest science suggests that most of the promise comes from adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, not from embryonic stem cells. I'm not sure if the above paragraph makes that clear. And, in fact, this is at the root of the issue since the stem cell researchers who filed the suit did so on the grounds that the NIH guidelines violate the law and also harm their work because they direct limited funding away from the more promising research.

Still, a pretty good story from Reuters that I hope will be updated with some perspective from those who defend stem cell research that destroys human embryos.

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