Thursday, August 26, 2010

US court rules that US government funding for stem cell research breaks law protecting human embryos

Many people in the world suffer from debilitating, devastating and/or life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, leukaemia, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. In the last two decades, medical breakthrough research has been done to find a way to cure the illnesses and to understand the nature and process of these diseases.

For this kind of research scientists have made use of stem cells which have been harvested from human embryos. According to De Wert and Mummery, 'Stem cells' could be defined as "primitive cells with the capacity to divide and give rise to more identical stem cells or to specialize and form specific cells of somatic tissues".

There are two types of stem cells: "embryonic stem (ES) cells which can only be derived from pre-implantation embryos and have a proven ability to form cells of all tissues of the adult organism (termed 'pluripotent') and 'adult' stem cells, which are found in a variety of tissues in the fetus and after birth and are, under normal conditions, more specialized ('multipotent') with an important function in tissue replacement and repair." [1]

Stem cell research using human embryos is a subject of heated discussions in many countries. Although further research offers hope for the treatment of several devastating diseases, use of human stem cells is also controversial because stem cells are harvested from human, pre-implantation embryos. Embryos and stem cells have been regarded as indispensable for medical research to find a treatment for a number of diseases and disorders such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. [2].

Most embryos which are used for stem cell research are spare embryos for IVF treatment but embryos have also been created for the derivation of embryonic stem cells. This practice is also under discussion. The most controversial is the use of human embryonic stem cells for therapeutic cloning [3]. Therapeutic cloning concerns the process of taking genetic material from a cell of the body and transplanting it into an egg cell to produce stem cells [4]. Reproductive cloning can be defined as human cloning for the purposes of creating a human being [5]. Therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning are somatic cell nuclear transfer (SNCT) techniques which involves the cloning of an embryo. In the United States of America (USA) there is no federal law which prohibits therapeutic and reproductive cloning.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer can create clones for both reproductive and therapeutic purposes. The diagram depicts the removal of the donor nucleus for schematic purposes; in practice usually the whole donor cell is transferred. Source: wikipedia

The Obama Administration is in favor of human embryonic stem cell research. However, it recently found an opponent of the current federal policy in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. James Sherley, an MIT scientist, and several other scientists who oppose human embryonic stem cell research, filed a case against the decision of the Obama administration to federally fund embryonic stem cell use research.

Sherley and others who use adult stem cells for their research in stead of embryonic cells, argued that the National Institute of Health guidelines regarding human embryonic stem cells are an infraction of the Dickey-Wicker amendment. This amendment is a law which prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for research purposes involving the destruction of human embryos. [6] Sherley and other scientists were of the opinion that as a result of the fact that they had to compete for government funding with researchers that used embryonic cells, their careers were damaged. [7].

Besides arguing that the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research unfairly reduces the funding for research using adult stem cells, James Sherley also is of the opinion that this particular kind of research is responsible for killing human life - the life of embryos that are used for research purposes. [8]

The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the federal funding of stem cell research breaks law protecting human embryos. The funding of stem cell research has therefore been temporarily barred. [9] Federal Judge Royce Lamberth stated that research and study on stem cells derived from human embryos that will be destroyed afterwards would be an infraction of the Dickey-Wicker amendment (1995). [10] With regard to the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, Judge Lamberth said the following:

"The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is unambiguous. It prohibits research in which an embryo is destroyed, discarded or knowingly subject to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed under applicable regulations. The guidelines violate that prohibition by allowing federal funding of [embryonic stem cell] research because ESC research depends upon the destruction of a human embryo". [11]

The court's decision on blocking the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research has led to criticism and astonishment. The Obama administration is going to appeal the ruling of the federal court. Whereas president Obama was in favor of the federal funding of stem cell research, former president Bush and his administration were against the use of embryonic stem cells because it would imply that embryos used for scientific purposes would have to be discarded or destroyed. This way the right to life of the embryo would be breached. Opponents to human embryonic stem cell research are of the opinion that it is unethical to use and destroy human embryos for research purposes. The adversaries to embryonic stem cell research prefer to opt for medical research without the use of human embryos. In stead, they use other lines of stem cells, for example adult stem cells, like MIT scientist James Sherley.

Robert Klein, chairman of the governing board of the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a privately funded institute, was surprised by the ruling of the court: "It would be immoral to unnecessarily delay the critical medical research that is vital for human embryonic stem cell therapies to reach patients suffering from chronic disease and injury". Mr. Klein sees no problem in using the human embryonic cells because the researchers only use those embryonic cells which are thrown away by fertility clinics when they become redundant: "We must remember that the microscopic cells used for this research would otherwise be thrown away by in vitro fertilization clinics, by couples that had finished their family planning". [12]

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee agrees that stem cell research should not be stopped because "Embryonic stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans who are suffering from debilitating and life-threatening diseases". [13]

Those in favor of human embryonic stem cell research are of the opinion that further research alongside other kinds of stem cell research is vital to science and further medical research. It could help us understand the process of cell transformation and how diseases such as diabetes and blindness could be treated. Christian denominations (such as Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and Lutherans) and other pro-life advocates are of the opinion that an embryo is a living being and that it will be killed while extracting stem cells from a human embryo during research. Human embryos contain human DNA and are therefore human life although in an early stage of physical development. [14]

Some opponents of such research are of the opinion that a human life is formed from the moment of fertilization and that research involving the extraction of stem cells would thus involve first degree murder. [15]. The mentioned Christian denominations do support adult stem cell research because this kind of research does not involve the destruction of embryos. [16]

The last word has not been said about this controversial issue. The ruling does not only affect the research programs in the USA - it also could have a big impact on policy regarding human embryonic stem cell research in other countries. The Obama administration has filed appeal. Now we have to wait.

Useful links:

(Newspaper) articles and blogs:

Other useful links:

Related Peace Palace Library Keywords:


[1] As quoted from: G. de Wert & C. Mummery, "Human embryonic stem cells: research, ethics and policy", 18 Human Reproduction (2003), p. 672.
[2] As quoted from: "Human reproductive cloning", Medicine Net, Medical Terms Dictionary.
See also G. de Wert & C. Mummery, "Human embryonic stem cells: research, ethics and policy", 18 Human Reproduction (2003), p. 672.
[3] As quoted from: G. de Wert & C. Mummery, "Human embryonic stem cells: research, ethics and policy", 18 Human Reproduction (2003), p. 672.
[4] As quoted from: "Human reproductive cloning", Medicine Net, Medical Terms Dictionary.
[5] As quoted from: "Human reproductive cloning", Medicine Net, Medical Terms Dictionary.
[6] Government funding for stem cell research blocked by US court, The Guardian
[7] Ibid.
[8] Stem cell opponent has challenged authority before, Reuters
[9] As quoted from: Government funding for stem cell research blocked by US court, The Guardian
[10] Ibid.

[11] As quoted from: ibid.
[12] As quoted from: Statement Regarding US District Court Ruling Freezing NIH Funding of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)
[13] As quoted from: "Stunned" government to appeal stem-cell ruling, Reuters
[14] Stem cell controversy, Wikipedia
[15] Human stem cell research: all viewpoints, Religious tolerance
[16] Stem cell controversy, Wikipedia

Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. They are able to develop into any type of cell, excepting those of the placenta. Only embryonic stem cells of the morula are totipotent: able to develop into any type of cell, including those of the placenta. Quoted from: wikipedia. Image from: wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

IALL 29th Annual Course

The IALL (International Association of Law Libraries) will hold its 29th Annual Course on International Legal Information and Law in the Peace Palace in The Hague from 5-9- September 2010.
Theme of the Conference is: “Dutch Gateways to International Law
(Euthanasia, Drugs, The Hague World Capital of International Law, Water, Grotius)

The keynote speech “International Law in Relation to the Dutch Constitution” will be delivered by Mr W.J.M. Davids, Former President of the Dutch Supreme Court, Head of the Committee to Investigate Decision-Making concerning War.
An attractive program offers eight sessions with lectures that will inform the participants of the Dutch connection with various aspects of international law. Experts will speak of the internationally highly criticized Dutch Policy on Drugs, Euthanasia Practice, and the role of the international courts, tribunals and other legal institutions in The Hague World Capital of International Law.
In a special session in Rotterdam specialists will elaborate on issues related with the Rotterdam harbor; Water, law, Transportation Rules, Rotterdam Rules, Law of the Sea.
The legal history and History of the Book session includes lectures on Hugo Grotius (Father of International Law), Erasmus, and the problem of the translation of official legal texts.
Visits to libraries, museums, lunch and diner-parties, even a mini-cruise through the Rotterdam harbor, will no doubt contribute to a successful conference.

The IALL publishes the International Journal of Legal Information

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The New President of Suriname

Mr. Désiré Delano Bouterse, a former military dictator, was elected President of the Republic of Suriname on July 19 by 36 votes out of 50 parliamentary votes.
He will be inaugurated today August 12th in Paramaribo in the presence of the outgoing president Ronald Venetiaan. Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, cancelled his attendance because of growing tensions at the border with Colombia.

Suriname, a former Dutch colony, gained independence in 1975. There are close historic ties between the 2 countries. They share the same language and a very large number of people of Surinamese origin live in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands as well as in the international community his election is controversial for several reasons.

In 1980 Bouterse seized power by overthrowing the Ferrier government by a military coup and he became Chairman of the National Military Council until 1988.

On December 8 and 9 1982 during his military rule, 15 political opponents were tortured and brutally killed. This event caused outrage and had a traumatic effect in Suriname as well as among the Surinamese immigrant community and in Dutch society at large.
In 1983 the UN Human Rights Committee adopted its views
under art. 5. para 4, of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the Communications Nos. 146/1983 and 148-154/1983, submitted by family members of the victims [1].
With respect to the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the author states that no recourse has been made to any court in Suriname because "it became obvious from different sources that the highest military authority ... was involved in the killing”.
This was also confirmed by an earlier report of the International Commission of Jurists.
In addition, the report of the Special Rapporteur , Amos Wako, to the UN Economic and Social Council, concluded in 1985 that “summary or arbitrary executions took place”, and “that the right to life in Suriname cannot be effectively protected unless an independent inquiry is conducted”

In a local Amsterdam television interview on 8 December 1998 Bouterse himself acknowledged responsibility saying :
“ I was responsible because I was head of the Army, I was the commander, commander in chief, wasn’t I?”[2].

However at least one victim had Dutch nationality and possibly others did as well.
Subsequently there has been a criminal trial to prosecute Mr. Bouterse for his alleged role in the December killings of 1982 in the Netherlands.
The Amsterdam Court of Appeal ordered the prosecution of Bouterse. The Court deemed the killing punishable by a international customary rule prohibiting torture.
The Court of Appeal established jurisdiction on the basis of the universality principle.
The Court also determined that there is no need to examine the claim to immunity since perpetrating very grave criminal offences of this kind can not be regarded as part of the official duties of a head of state”[3].

After an appeal in cassation in the interests of the law, the Supreme Court quashed the disputed decision [4]. The Supreme Court considered that the principle of legality stipulated in art. 1 of the Dutch Criminal Code and art. 16 of the Constitution prescribes an unreserved prohibition of trial and punishment of a person for an offence that did not constitute an offence under Dutch law at the time it was committed. By doing so the Court followed the reasoning of The House of Lords in the Pinochet Case.
Also the Court found that Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction in relation to the alleged acts of torture committed before the entry into force of the Convention against Torture of 1984 and the Dutch Torture Convention Implementation Act of 1988.
The Supreme Court did not address the question of Bouterse’s immunity and left the decision of the Court of Appeal intact on this legal issue.

However this was not the end of his legal problems. Mr. Bouterse ran into trouble with the law once more in 2001 when he was convicted in absentia for cocaine trafficking and was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison by the Dutch Supreme Court [5].
This made the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs state : “The new president of Suriname is very welcome in the Netherlands – to sit out a jail sentence!”

Due to a lack of political will no criminal investigations and/or prosecutions took place in Suriname. It was not until 2007 when finally the victim’s families were able to instigate proceedings before a military tribunal against Mr. Bouterse and 24 complices which are still pending.

According to the Constitution of the Republic of Suriname of 1987, the powers of the President are far reaching. Apart from being Head of State he is also Head of Government, Chairman of the Council of State and of the Security Council (art. 90-1)
He is responsible to the National Assembly (art. 90-2).The President shall have the direction of foreign relations and shall promote the development of the international legal order (art. 101). According to article 109 the President is authorized to grant pardons for penalties inflicted by judicial sentence.

Today the newly appointed Chef Cabinet Harvey Naarendorp, a former diplomat, announced the establishment of a new Truth Commission to investigate the December killings of 1982. Furthermore Mr. Naarendorp stated that the new government will not interfere with the pending criminal proceedings against Mr. Bouterse as this would undermine the constitutional principle of the separation of powers [6].

When the democratically elected President shall address the UN General Assembly next month we will hear his future plans and policies and probably little about his past.

[1] CCPR/C/24/D/148/1983
[2] English translation of Amsterdam Court of Appeal Case, Netherlands Yearbook of international Law (NYIL), Volume 32 (2001), p. 270
[3] Idem, p. 266-282
[4] Idem, p. 266-282
[5], zaaknummer/casenumber LJN AB 1471, Hoge Raad

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Arabian leaders try to tackle tension in Lebanon

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Beirut on Friday 30th July in a show of unity before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanon's president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker stood side by side to receive the heads of state as they descended from a Saudi jet onto a red carpet at Rafik Hariri International Airport. The visit appeared to be an attempt to quell anxiety in Lebanon that followed a speech last week by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant group Hezbollah, in which he denied links between his party and Hariri's death.

On 13 December 2005, the Government of the Republic of Lebanon requested the United Nations to establish a tribunal of an international character to try all those who are alleged responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 in Beirut that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1664 (2006), the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic negotiated an agreement on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Further to Security Council resolution 1757(2007) of 30 May 2007, the provisions of the document annexed to it and the Statute of the Special Tribunal there to attached, entered into force on 10 June 2007. The tribunal has indicted no one since it was set up. Last year it ordered the release of four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals jailed for four years without charge. Lebanese authorities had detained them at the request of a former U.N. investigator in 2005.

Hariri was a known critic of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and initial findings by UN investigators pointed to Syrian involvement in his assassination - something Syria has always denied. Hariri's killing caused such uproar in Lebanon that Syria was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2005 after three decades of military presence there.

Hezbollah, a Shi'ite guerrilla movement and a powerful player in Lebanese politics, has often questioned the tribunal's integrity and neutrality, saying its work had been tainted by false witnesses and reliance on telephone records that Israeli spies arrested in Lebanon could have manipulated.

This month Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah assailed the court, which is based in The Hague, as an "Israeli project" after saying he had received word that it planned to indict members of his group in connection with Hariri's killing.

The dramatic arrival of the Saudi and Syrian leaders suggests that they may seek to pressure the various Lebanese factions to strike a deal to preserve the country's stability without undermining the credibility of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Books and articles in Peace Palace Library:

About Special Tribunal for Lebanon

About Hezbollah

Relevant external links:

Relevant press articles:

NRC International : Hezbollah linked to Hariri killing (25 May 2009)

The Daily Star : Nasrallah calls Tribunal 'Israeli project' (17 July 2010)

Reuters : UN-backed Lebanon tribunal rejects Hezbollah outcry (29 July 2010)

AlJazeera : Assad 'to attend' summit in Lebanon (29 Jly 2010)

BBC News : Syrian and Saudi leaders pledge support for Lebanon (30 July 2010)

Wire update : Syria, Saudi Arabia leaders arrive in Lebanon for political talks (30 July 2010)

The Times of India : Saudi Arabian, Syrian leaders head to Lebanon amid tension (30 July 2010)