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Court lifts ban on funding for embryonic stem cell research
An appeals court in Washington has ruled that researchers using human embryonic stem cell can continue receiving government funding, pending a full appeal of an injunction imposed in August.
REUTERS - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday allowed federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to continue pending a full appeal, lifting an injunction issued by a federal judge and handing a victory to the Obama administration.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the Obama administration had “satisfied the standards required for a stay pending appeal” of the injunction imposed last month.
Judge Royce Lamberth issued the ban after finding the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines on the research violated the law because embryos were destroyed in the process and it put other researchers working with adult stem cells at a competitive disadvantage for federal grants.
The Obama administration challenged his ruling and asked the appeals court to put the injunction on hold pending its decision on the merits of the dispute. The appeals court ordered an expedited schedule for arguments.
“We’re heartened that the court will allow NIH and their grantees to continue moving forward while the appeal is resolved,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
President Barack Obama has expanded federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells in hopes it will lead to cures for more diseases. Opponents argue, usually on religious grounds, that the research is unacceptable because it damages or destroys human embryos.
Human embryonic stem cells come from days-old embryos and can produce any type of cell in the body. Scientists hope to be able to use them to address spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Human embryos destroyed
During a lengthy oral argument on Monday, government lawyers warned the three-judge panel that dozens of research projects would be ruined if their funding was cut off, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and causing irreparable harm.
Lamberth’s injunction came after a challenge by two researchers who work with adult stem cells and opposed work with embryonic stem cells—Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology.
Sam Casey, a lawyer on the legal team challenging the NIH guidelines, said they were disappointed by the decision but “we are confident in our case and expect the court will ultimately end taxpayer funding of unlawful, unnecessary and unethical experiments on living human embryos.”
Even with funding allowed to continue, possibly only temporarily, the White House could turn to Congress in hopes lawmakers will rewrite the law to be clearer on the issue, though that could be difficult in an election year.
Lawmakers are expected to head back to their home districts in coming days to campaign for re-election. And conservative Republicans are expected to make gains in the November elections, which may make it harder to win passage next year.
The NIH could also try to rewrite its guidelines to conform with the law, or the White House could appeal to the Supreme Court if the appeals court rules against it on the merits of the case.