Court lifts injunction on embryonic stem cell research funding

Human stem cell CNA World Catholic News 4 29 11

A U.S. court of appeals panel has said the U.S. government can use federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The decision reverses a judge’s injunction last year, but does not end the original legal challenge.

In a 2-1 decision, the court said that opponents of taxpayer funding for the research are not likely to succeed in a lawsuit to stop it and so funding may continue. However, the original lawsuit can still proceed before U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

The ruling reverses Judge Lamberth’s August 2010 decision which said the research likely violates the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment that bans funding the destruction of human embryos.

Private money has been used to destroy the embryos, whose cells can reproduce in lab dishes indefinitely, Fox News reports. The Obama administration has issued rules permitting taxpayer dollars to work on these cell lines.

Two doctors who conduct research in adult stem cells, James Sherley of the Boston Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of AVM Biotechnology, had challenged the legality of the funding. They also argued that the administration’s rules will result in increased competition for limited federal funding and will injure their ability to compete successfully for research money from the National Institutes of Health.

The Obama administration had immediately appealed Judge Lamberth’s injunction against the funding. The court panel agreed that the injunction would impose a substantial hardship on stem cell researchers at the National Institutes of Health, particularly because it would halt multi-year projects already in progress.

The majority opinion also noted that Congress has re-enacted the 1996 law year after year with the knowledge that the government has been funding embryonic stem cell research since 2001. They said this was evidence that Congress considers such funding permissible, the Associated Press reports.

The opinion was written by Reagan nominee Judge Douglas Ginsburg and supported by George W. Bush nominee Judge Thomas Griffith. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, a nominee of George H.W. Bush, dissented.

Judge Henderson thought that the lawsuit was likely to succeed. She argued her colleagues performed “linguistic jujitsu” by turning a straightforward case into a complicated 21-page ruling “that would make Rube Goldberg tip his hat.”

Backers of embryonic stem cell research say the research has the potential to address some of the most difficult areas in medicine, including treatments for spinal cord injury, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

CNA contacted the U.S. bishops’ pro-life secretariat for comment but spokespersons were not available.

Catholic bioethicist Fr. Thomas Berg, director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person, had praised Judge Lamberth’s decision to block the research funding.

He thought the judge correctly interpreted the intention of Congress in the original wording of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, he told CNA in August 2010.

Fr. Berg said funding embryonic stem cell research is “complicity in the destruction of individual, embryonic human persons.”

“You were once an embryo. That’s a simple matter of scientific and biological facts,” he continued. “The human embryo is already a human being. It is already a human person at an early stage of development. The arbitrary isolation of that embryonic stage has no logical footing to stand on.”

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