Despite increasing foes, U.S. funding ban for human embryo killing endures

Despite increasing foes, U.S. funding ban for human embryo killing endures

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama


A longstanding amendment banning federal funding for research in which human embryos are destroyed, discarded, or "knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death" was part of an omnibus bill signed by President Barack Obama on Wednesday. However, some backers of embryo-destructive research are advocating the amendment’s repeal.

The provision, known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, has been included in the annual appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since 1996. According to, it is located in Section 509 of Title V, on page 280 of the 465-page H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act 2009.

Barring repeal, the amendment will be in force through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The amendment defines the human embryo as "any organism… that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes or human diploid cells."

On March 9 President Obama overturned President George W. Bush’s executive order barring federal funding for new stem cell lines derived from destroying human embryos. While embryonic stem cell researchers may not use federal funds to create and destroy human embryos for their stem cells, they may acquire stem cells from human embryos destroyed with non-U.S. government funding.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who has sponsored the House version of a bill that would have legalized federal funding of embryonic stem cell research using embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics, has said she is considering the possibility of repealing the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

"Dickey-Wicker is 13 years old now, and I think we need to review these policies," Rep. DeGette told the New York Times on Monday. "I’ve already talked to several pro-life Democrats about Dickey-Wicker, and they seemed open to the concept of reversing the policy if we could show that it was necessary to foster this research."

However, other pro-life Democrats are against the embryo-destructive research.

On Wednesday Kristin Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), told CNA her organization is opposed to using human embryos and experimenting on them.

"The end doesn’t justify the means," she said.

Some Republicans have also joined the calls to reexamine the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Rep. Mike Castle (R.-Del.), a co-sponsor of Rep. DeGette’s bill, said the amendment is "something we need to look at."

"That was passed in 1996, before we realized the full potential of embryonic stem cell research. Some researchers are telling us now that that needs to be reversed," he told the Congressional Quarterly on Monday.

A Tuesday New York Times editorial also called for the repeal of Dickey-Wicker, saying it has "hobbled" other "important embryonic research."

According to, National Right to Life Committee spokesman Douglas Johnson on Monday said that President Obama’s embryonic stem cell research executive order "set the stage" for efforts to repeal Dickey-Wicker.

"Any member of Congress who votes for legislation to repeal this law is voting to allow federal funding of human embryo farms, created through the use of human cloning," he warned.

In his Monday announcement of his executive order overturning embryonic stem cell funding restrictions, President Obama said "we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society, or any society."

Some advocates of human embryonic stem cell research try to distinguish between "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning, arguing that the latter practice should be allowed. Prospective embryonic stem cell therapies may require cloning to avoid rejection of the cells by patients’ immune systems.

If such research and therapies are developed, embryos will be cloned from the patient and then killed for their stem cells.

According to, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) sponsored a bill in the last Congress which would specifically permit federal funding of research using human embryos that are created by cloning and kept alive for no more than 14 days.