By Mike Lillis
Monday's injunction blocking government funding for new embryonic stem cell research should spur Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing scientists access to those cells, Rep. Diana DeGette said this week.
A failure to overturn the court's ruling, the liberal Colorado Democrat warned, will set the country back years in the fight against debilitating disease.
"Our nation already lost valuable time over the last decade, when we could have been bringing our massive resources and expertise to bear, expanding stem cell research and helping 100 million American patients living with devastating and debilitating diseases," DeGette, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.
"[The] ruling underscores why we must pass common-sense embryonic stem cell research legislation, placing these regulations into statute and once and for all, ensuring this critical life-saving research can be conducted for years to come, unimpeded by political whims or naysayers."
It's hardly the first time the Democrats have pushed for stem cell legislation. In 2006, then-President George W. Bush vetoed a Democratic bill expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
The bill, Bush said at the time, "crossed a moral boundary."
While Bush allowed the study of some embryonic stem cells under his tenure, he limited that research to existing lines of cells — a move President Obama reversed last year.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled that Obama's 2009 executive order expanding embryonic stem cell research violates a ban on the federally funded destruction of human embryos.
The decision was cheered by anti-abortion groups, who have long argued that such research snuffs out a human life.
But DeGette said the judge got it wrong. "By definition, embryos and stem cells are two entirely different organisms," she said. "Today’s ruling is the case of one judge ignoring the scientific fact that research on pluripotent stem cells is not the same as research on an embryo."
Many scientists agreed, saying the medical benefits of studying stem cells can't be duplicated with adult cells.
Susan L. Solomon, CEO of The New York Stem Cell Foundation, warned that Monday's decision will "slow the progress of advancing revolutionary new therapies" targeting ailments no less serious than cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
"This court decision allows a vocal minority to hold science hostage to a narrow political agenda," Solomon said.