Thursday September 2, 2010

Obama Justice Dept Seeks Stay of Order Nixing NIH Embryonic Stem Cell Funding

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 2, 2010 ( – The U.S. Justice Department is requesting a federal judge stay his order stopping the National Institute of Health’s embryo-destroying stem-cell research pending an appeal, saying that cutting off the money to scientists would harm their research efforts.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last week that embryonic stem cell research projects funded by the NIH violate the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from going to research that destroys human embryos.

Congress attempted to pass a bill permitting funding of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research in 2007, but that legislation was vetoed by President George W. Bush.

“The issuance of a stay is necessary to prevent the irreparable harm that is certain to occur if … NIH is forced to cease all activities pertaining to [hESC] research that is subject to government funding,” stated the Justice Department’s emergency motion filed Tuesday.

Written testimony from NIH head Dr. Francis Collins stated that $546 million dollars had been invested by the NIH in hESC research since 2002, and that $54 million to 24 research projects will be prevented by Lamberth’s order. Collins said that the injunction would mean the whole effort since 2002 “will have been wasted” by stopping experiments and research prematurely.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order rescinding President Bush’s executive order that limited federal funds to hESC lines already in existence, giving the green light to finance the creation of new hESC lines and trials.

Two scientists involved in adult stem cell research, Drs. James Sherley of Boston and Theresa Deisher of Seattle, sued the Obama Administration on the basis that the NIH was favoring hESC researchers, starving ethical researchers such as themselves for grants.

“We have a responsibility and are taught to do ethical research,” Sherley told The Wall Street Journal. “This is impacting the quality of science in this country.”

Critics have pointed out that, aside from destroying human lives at a very early stage of development, hESC research has yielded little therapeutic benefit. It has been outstripped by breakthroughs in adult stem cell research, which has yielded dozens of therapies and benefits for previously untreatable conditions.

Judge Lamberth struck down the Obama policy on August 23, saying it conflicted with “unambiguous” US statute.

“If one step…of an ESC [embryonic stem cell] research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment,” Lamberth’s preliminary injunction order stated. “Because ESC research requires the derivation of ESCs, ESC research is research in which an embryo is destroyed.”

The Obama Administration is appealing the decision, and said that a stay “should not be denied for the benefit of two scientists whose only alleged harm is increased competition from other meritorious research projects that may ultimately save lives.”

As a result of the injunction, NIH has cut off funding to its eight “intra-mural” hESC research projects.

NIH officials say “extramural” projects by researchers outside NIH may keep grant money already appropriated to them, but they will have no additional funds pending the injunction. The NIH has also suspended all applications to hESC researchers requesting funding. (see order here)

“We think it’s a start,” Steven Aden, Senior Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, told in a telephone interview.

ADF is co-counsel in the lawsuit, Dr. James L. Sherley et. al. v. Kathleen Sebelius et al., along with Samuel Casey of Advocates International. Aden told LSN that the legal advocacy group intends to file opposition papers with Lamberth’s court on Friday responding to the Justice Department’s request for a stay.

Aden said that the “original intent as expressed by Congressman Dickey and others” was to “prohibit all research involved in the destruction of human life.”

“We believe that is what the Dickey Wicker amendment means today.”

“As the case goes forward, we expect Judge Lambert to clarify the meaning and scope of the injunction,” said Aden.

Aden predicted that Lamberth should rule fairly quickly, and then the matter would head to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which could render its own ruling within weeks.

Click here for more information on stem cell research.

See previous and related coverage by

Congressmen Seek to Undermine Embryonic Stem Cell Ruling by Changing Law

U.S. Court Halts Obama Admin Stem-Cell Research Guidelines

Adult Stem Cell Treatment Leaves College Student Free of Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

“Embryos are Humans” Says U.S. Government Report on Stem Cell Research

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