Stem-Cell Ruling Both Legally and Politically Significant, says Associate Professor Abbe Gluck

Gluck, an Expert on Health Law and Statutory Interpretation, says 2-1 Ruling Grounded in Congressional Intent to Continue Funding for Stem-Cell Research


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New York, April 29, 2011Columbia Law School Associate Professor Abbe Gluck, an expert on health law and policy, said today’s appeals court decision that upholds federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research is significant on a number of fronts.
“First, it provides a strong hint as to how the appeals court  is likely to rule on the merits of the case: A key question in deciding whether the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction should be issued is whether the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case—and the Court here concluded they were not,” Gluck said.
“Second, the Court accorded deference to the interpretation accorded the statute by the expert agency charged with administering it, the National Institutes of Health,” said Gluck, who has written extensively on legislation and statutory interpretation.
In overturning a U.S. District Court ruling, Gluck said the court made some important inferences about Congressional intent, and grounded the decision not only in its reading of the statute but also in conclusions about what Congress likely wanted.
“Specifically, the Court found relevant the fact that Congress re-enacted the statute after the Obama Administration issued its policy, and inferred that Congress acquiesced in the Administration’s reading,” Gluck said.
Gluck noted that while stem-cell research has been a politically charged issue, the 2-1 decision was handed down by two Republican-appointed judges (the dissenting judge was also a Republican appointee).
“And it is worth emphasizing that the interpretation of the statute offered by NIH is not an Obama-Administration-only reading. In fact, its reading of the statute—that federal funds can be used for embryonic stem cell research once stem-line lines have been created—was adopted by President Bush as well.”
The only difference between the Obama and Bush Administration positions on this issue, Gluck said, is that Bush limited federal funds to stem-cell lines already in existence when his policy was issued, while Obama has allowed federal funds to be used for stem-cell research on new lines as well.
“The opinion is significant because the contrary result—an order freezing use of federal funds on research on existing stem cell lines—could have jeopardized much of the incredibly important research underway,” Gluck said.
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