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Opponents in stem cell case find themselves in rare agreement: UPDATED

The US government has changed its procedural strategy in a lawsuit that challenges its funding of human embroynic stem cell research, agreeing with the plaintiffs that a lower court judge should receive additional briefings before deciding the case on its merits.

Lawyers for the Department of Justice initially opposed a request by plaintiffs James Sherley and Thersa Deisher, who on 9 May asked Judge Royce Lamberth of the US District Court for the District of Columbia for permission to file additional arguments in their attempt to influence his decision in Sherley v. Sebelius. But today, in this filing, the plaintiffs’ attorneys announced that the government’s lawyers have changed course and are not opposing the request, which now asks that both sides file additional, 10-page, briefs by June 24.

It is up to Lamberth to allow or deny the requests as he ponders arguments in the case. Last autumn, both the government and the plaintiffs asked him to render speedy, “summary” judgment in the matter. In April, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned Lamberth’s preliminary injunction shutting down National Institutes of Health funding for the research. But the heart of the case still lies with Lamberth to decide.

Separately today, different “Perspectives” papers in the New England Journal of Medicine offered opposing views on the significance of last month’s appeals court decision.

Here, I. Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School and Eli Adashi, at Brown University’s school of medicine, proclaim that the decision means that the “Battle [is] Won, but Not the War.”

In this paper, George Annas, of the School of Public Health at Boston University, said that the decision amounts to “sudden death” for the legal attempt to kill NIH funding of hESC research.

Watch this space for continuing coverage of the litigation.

UPDATE: May 19, 2011, 12:48 pm

Judge Royce Lamberth today approved the plaintiffs’ request that they and the defendants be given the opportunity to file 10-page, supplemental briefs by June 24. Lamberth will consider these while deciding whether, and if so, to whom, to grant summary judgment in Sherley v. Sebelius.


  1. Report this comment

    LN said:

    In July of 2009, the House Committee on Appropriations issued a report stating that “The Committee is also pleased to note that NIH has recently published guidelines for the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) with NIH funds.” H. Rept. 111-220. Why isn’t that the end of the issue?

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