District court judge blocks federal funding for embryonic stem cell research
Just when you thought embryonic stem cell research would begin to show whether regenerating damaged cells would allow spinal cord injury victims to walk again or help repair damaged hearts, a federal district court judge has ordered it to stop.
Judge Royce Lamberth has issued an injunction Monday blocking the use of any federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. In his ruling, Lamberth concluded that last year’s order from President Barack Obama expanding support for embryonic stem cell research violated a congressional law. In doing so, the judge has both hobbled vital research and left this country lagging behind its competitors around the world as they aggressively move ahead with research using cells from human embryos.
Why did Lamberth reverse the executive order?
In 1996, an amendment was attached to an appropriation bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services by Congress. It was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton. The Dickey-Wicker amendment, named for Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the two Congressmen who proposed it, has been attached to each appropriation bill every year since then. The amendment — the law the judge used to bring embryonic experiments to a screeching halt — says government money can’t be spent to create, destroy, discard or “injure” human embryos in the name of stem cell science.
Competing scientific ideas
In a lawsuit initially brought by a few scientists, the judge ruled that the Obama guidelines — intended to allow limited stem cell research involving embryo destruction — threatened their ability to get grants for adult stem cells. Other groups had argued that destroying embryos would decrease the number of human embryos available for adoption.
The judge may be right about the Dickey amendment, but this is the wrong case to have this battle. Despite the ruling of a higher court which let this fiasco proceed, those initially bringing this lawsuit have no case.
By Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.