Stem Cell Tragedy: ADF Lawsuit Blocks Badly Needed Medical Research

The ADF has taken it upon itself to stop scientific progress for strictly dogmatic reasons.

Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) should be ashamed of themselves. They have succeeded in temporarily hindering sound science and impeding research that could save lives – just to push their fundamentalist religious agenda.

Yesterday, a district court issued a preliminary injunction to stop embryonic stem cell research. The ADF, along with Advocates International, had gone to court to stop the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from funding experiments using human embryonic stem cells.

The lawsuit came about after President Barack Obama issued an executive order last March authorizing the renewal of federal funding of stem cell research, reversing a ban imposed by George W. Bush in 2001.

The ADF, a Religious Right legal group founded and funded by TV preachers and their allies, argues that federal law prevents funding such research. But the real basis for the ADF’s objection is not the law but religious doctrine.

The Religious Right’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research has been long-standing and extreme. James Dobson has likened stem cell research to Nazi experiments during the Holocaust. And ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden hailed yesterday’s ruling, stating, “No one should be allowed to decide that an innocent life is worthless.”

While Judge Royce Lamberth, a Reagan appointee, pleased the ADF with his decision in Sherley v. Sebelius, he outraged scientists.

“If the ruling cannot be lifted soon, this will do irreparable harm to the field,” Sam Morrison, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Michigan, told ABC News.

NIH Director Francis Collins told the Washington Post that since the ruling, the 50 requests for new funding that were being assessed by the NIH  have been “pulled out of the stack” and will not be considered further. About a dozen other requests for $15 million to $20 million that had gone through the full review and were likely to be approved were frozen. In addition, 22 grants totaling about $54 million due for renewal in September will be cut off.

And what’s worse, Collins indicated that this decision could hinder all types of stem cell research that were even allowed under the Bush administration.

Collins is an evangelical Christian who, unlike the ADF, does not believe religion and science should be incompatible.

“We need science if we're going to survive in a complicated world and if we're going to treat terrible diseases that cry out for some form of alleviation,” he once said in an interview. “And we need faith if we're going to keep ourselves in perspective. So we must seek out the ways in which these worldviews can happily coexist.”

Preventing scientific progress is hardly the way to do that. Stem cell research is helpful in testing new drugs and for the generation of cells and tissues that could be used to treat Alzheimer's diseases, spinal-cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

But the ADF has taken it upon itself to stop this progress for strictly dogmatic reasons. Frankly, that’s just sad.

The Department of Justice has appealed Judge Lamberth’s decision. We hope the appellate judges don’t cave to sectarian pressure groups like the ADF. Our country’s policies and laws should not be based on one particular religious belief, but on what’s good for society.

I’d like to think conducting research that could save lives qualifies.