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NRL News
Page 27
June 2010
Volume 37
Issue 8-9

Judge Slaps Preliminary Injunction on Obama Embryonic Stem Cell Policy

BY Dave Andrusko

On August 23 Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the Obama Administration from continuing to fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos.

In his 15-page order, Lamberth, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said that it appeared that the Administration’s decision to fund embryonic stem cell (ESC) research was inconsistent with a federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. The ruling was preliminary, but the judge ordered the funding to cease while the case progresses.

NRLC was instrumental in winning enactment of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment in 1996, and in successfully defending it against subsequent attempts to weaken or repeal it.

As NRL News went to press, the Obama Justice Department said it would appeal Judge Lamberth’s decision. White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton “said the administration is exploring all possible avenues ‘to make sure that we can continue to do this critical lifesaving research,’ but he did not specify exactly how it will respond,” the Washington Post reported.

On August 24 the National Institutes of Health said “it will not award new grants or renew existing ones for research on human embryonic stem cells after a federal judge temporarily halted the Obama administration’s expansion of federal funding for this research,” according to the Boston Globe. “But scientists who have already received federal money, including Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers, can continue their work on these cells, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH. The agency has awarded $131 million this year for human embryonic stem cell research.”

Predictably, Lamberth’s decision was greeted with wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who’ve sold ESC research as an all-purpose medical elixir. In fact, to date, there are over 70 published studies that show promising results utilizing morally unobjectionable adult stem cell research versus none with ESC.

Lamberth, who is widely respected, flatly refused to accept distinctions offered by the Obama Administration. He noted that the Dickey-Wicker Amendment very clearly bans federal funding of “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

Operationally, the Obama Administration built a Rube Goldberg contraption which, it argued, meant its policy was in compliance. Obtaining embryonic stem cells lines—which required the death of human embryos—would be funded with private money, not public. The federal dollars would only be used to conduct subsequent research, the Administration argued.

But Lamberth made short work of that.

The language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed,” he wrote. “Simply because embryonic stem cell research involves multiple steps does not mean that each step is a separate ‘piece of research’ that may be federally funded.”

The New York Times characterization is 100% accurate: “In other words, the neat lines that the government had drawn between the process of embryonic destruction and the results of that destruction are not valid, the judge ruled.”

Lamberth had initially dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that plaintiffs did not have standing. “But the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last year, saying the two researchers [Dr. James L. Sherley and Dr. Theresa Deisher] could be harmed by the new policy since they worked exclusively with adult stem cells and would face increased competition for federal financing under the new policy,” the Times reported.