A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’ dismissal of a lawsuit filed on behalf of all frozen human embryos in the U.S. that sought to halt federal funding of research using stem cells derived from the embryos.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs in the case, represented by “Mary Scott Doe, a human embryo ‘born’ in the United States (and subsequently frozen in which state of cryopreservation her life is presently suspended),” do not have standing to assert their constitutional and statutory rights. The court also ruled that the plaintiffs, which also included people who adopt children from embryos donated for adoption, could not prove that all frozen embryos in the U.S. would be harmed by the research.
“We cannot identify a particularized harm because the complaint does not identify any of the named plaintiff’s particularized characteristics. Instead, it leaves us only with questions such as whether the embryo will ever be used for research and whether that research will be funded by the [National Institutes of Health],'” according to the documents. “We have no idea under what terms the named plaintiff embryo was donated or stored or what its status even is. In the absence of answers, the chosen appellation of Mary Scott Doe could equally designate any member of an amorphous frozen embryo class.”
Citing federal rules stipulating that researchers who receive government funding use stem cells derived only from embryos earmarked for that purpose by their donors, the court also wrote that the plaintiffs can’t connect any harm to embryos to federally funded research.
“Where government policy not only allows the biological parents to choose what to do with their embryos, but also safeguards the independence of their decision with strict conditions, the connection between injury and policy is a ‘purely speculative’ one,” according to court documents.
But the court left a loophole for future plaintiffs, calling its ruling “a narrow one.”
“[W]e do not suggest that no party would ever have standing to assert similar claims. The bar of standing must not be set too high, lest many regulatory
actions escape review contrary to the intent of Congress,” according to court documents. “A complaint that provided more concrete information about the identity of the named plaintiff embryo or the plaintiff parents’ plans for adoption would at least address more directly what the Supreme Court has identified as serious constitutional concerns.”
And the ruling in no way bears on a similar lawsuit unspooling in another federal appeals court, the court added.