WASHINGTON- The Supreme Court has refused to intervene in a suit that sought to block stem-cell research by claiming that rights of an embryo, “Mary Doe,” were violated by the government-funded research.
The court on Monday declined to take up the petition by R. Martin Palmer, a Hagerstown lawyer, who claimed that the research violated Mary Doe’s 14th Amendment right to due process.
Palmer’s suit stalled in federal district court in Greenbelt, after the judge there administratively closed the case. Palmer was asking the high court to reopen the case.
“We’re talking about the sanctity of human life,” said Palmer, the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Preborn Children, which is based in Hagerstown.
Palmer said that calling the week-old embryos that are used for research “pre-embryos is to dehumanize them.” He filed the suit three years ago against the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health on behalf of Mary Doe and the association.
Officials at NIH had no comment on the high court’s action and officials at HHS did not return phone calls Tuesday. But a spokesman for the Solicitor General’s Office, which represented both agencies, said the office never bothered to respond to Palmer’s Supreme Court appeal.
“We did not involve ourselves,” said Charles Miller, the spokesman.
When Palmer filed the suit in federal district court in Greenbelt, the Clinton administration had approved stem cell research. But by 2001, when the case came to trial, there was a new president was in the White House and the administration was reviewing the national stem-cell research policy.
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte chose to administratively close the case instead of making a ruling, and required an update on research guidelines every 60 days.
Stem cells are viewed by researchers as a potential panacea for many diseases, including diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Drawn from human embryos, they are desirable because they have the potential to develop into any of the tissues in the body.
Researchers extracted stem cells from the inner mass of embryos created for in vitro fertilization but not implanted. Although the embryos died when the stem cells were removed, the cells were placed in cultures to multiply, according to the NIH.
To the delight of Palmer and his organization, President Bush in August 2001 changed the policy on stem-cell research to allow that only existing “lines” of stem cells be used. Because stem cells can regenerate themselves indefinitely, Bush said there is no need to harm any more embryos for research within the United States.
Palmer is convinced that his suit helped hold “back the floodwaters of the millions of dollars of federal funding (for embryonic stem cell research).”
Although disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling, he said he has no plans to push the case in district court, citing the Bush administration stance on stem-cell research.
“He’s keeping the lid on this Pandora’s Box of embryo research,” Palmer said.