Signals Blog

A few months ago I wrote about a temporary injunction (ban) issued by United States federal district court judge Royce C. Lamberth on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cell lines derived from supernumerary IVF embryos. Subsequently, at the request of the federal government, a U.S. appeal court suspended the injunction pending a full review of the case. On April 29, 2011, the same appeal court permanently overturned the injunction and in accordance with customary legal process, sent the case back to the Judge Lamberth for a full hearing. This means that unlike the initial injunction, which was ordered based on a preliminary hearing of the case, Judge Lamberth is obliged to hear and decide the case on its merits following full submissions of facts and arguments by the parties. Thus, while the federal government may continue to fund the affected research, the case is far from over. Also, any decision issued following a full hearing of the case can be appealed.

As I argued in my previous posts, and as is obvious from the alternating judgments and the possibility of further appeals, the court system is not the proper venue for shaping and setting science policy. A more stable approach would be for the U.S. Congress to settle the matter definitively by promulgating comprehensive policies regarding hESC research. This is the approach taken by the Canadian government, and despite a recent successful court challenge against aspects of Canada’s embryo research legislation, a fairly stable, albeit (in my opinion) unsatisfactory, policy regime remains.

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Ubaka Ogbogu

Ubaka Ogbogu is an Assistant Professor and the Katz Group Research Fellow in Health Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Alberta. His teaching and research interests include health law, law and biotechnology, law and bioethics, science and regulation, and legal history. Ubaka is a former SCN trainee and a recipient of the SCN Canadian Alumni Award. He has done extensive research work on the ethical, legal and social issues associated with stem cell research, and continues to research and publish in this area. Ubaka holds law degrees at the bachelors and masters levels from the University of Benin in Nigeria and the University of Alberta, and is currently in the process of completing a doctorate in law at the University of Toronto. His doctoral work focuses on the legal history of early health care and biotechnology policies in Canada, particularly in relation to smallpox vaccination and infectious diseases.