Judge declines to lift stem cell funding ban
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
A federal judge on Tuesday denied a motion to lift an injunction he issued two weeks ago barring the government from funding research involving human embryonic stem cells.
Royce C. Lamberth, chief U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia, rejected a request by the Obama administration to lift the temporary injunction he had issued pending an appeal of the decision.
But Lamberth indicated that his injunction was less restrictive than had been interpreted by the Obama administration.
"Defendants are incorrect about much of their 'parade of horribles' that will supposedly result from this Court's preliminary injunction," Lamberth wrote. The ruling did not necessarily apply to research that had been funded under guidelines issued during the Bush administration or that had previously been "awarded and funded," Lamberth wrote. He also indicated that he could make a final decision on the case soon.
Nevertheless, the decision marks a disappointment for supporters of the research, who had hoped the judge would grant the motion, allowing funding to continue under new, much less restrictive guidelines that the Obama administration had put in place until the case is finally decided.
Lamberth issued the injunction Aug. 23 in a case brought by two researchers who work on alternatives to the cells. He ruled that the funding violated a federal law that bars federal tax money from being used for any research involving the destruction of human embryos.
"In this Court's view, a stay would flout the will of Congress, as this Court understands what Congress has enacted in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment," Lamberth wrote in Tuesday's ruling. "Congress has mandated that the public interest is served by preventing taxpayer funding of research that entails the destruction of human embryos."
The decision was hailed by opponents of the research, who say it is immoral to destroy human embryos. It was condemned by supporters and advocates for patients, who said it was a major setback for one of the most promising areas of biomedical research.
In response to the order, the National Institutes of Health announced it was suspending consideration of any new grants for such research. Any researchers who had received funding could continue their work, but their grants would not be renewed when they come up for routine review, the NIH said. As a result, hundreds of scientists across the country are scrambling to figure out how they are going to continue their research.
The Justice Department asked that the injunction be lifted while it appeals the decision, saying that the halt to the funding was causing irreparable harm to researchers, the federal government and patients hoping for cures.
Lisa Hughes, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a group that has led lobbying efforts for greater stem cell funding, issued the following statement:
"We are disappointed with today's Order to deny NIH's Emergency Motion To Stay Preliminary Injunction Pending Appeal issued by Judge Lamberth. CAMR's primary goal is to permanently restore embryonic stem cell research freedom as it existed before August 23, 2010. We look forward to NIH's guidance on how best to interpret today's order."
The NIH referred questions to the Justice Department. The Justice Department is expected to appeal the decision, but a spokesman said Tuesday that the government was still reviewing it.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.