Scientists who use embryonic stem cells for research can continue to receive U.S. taxpayer funding while the government challenges a lower-court order that barred federal support, an appeals court said.
The ruling by U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington yesterday puts on hold an order cutting off funding by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, which the government argued would cause irreparable harm to researchers, taxpayers, and scientific progress while the case is appealed.
The government’s lawyers “have satisfied the standards required for a stay pending appeal,” the judges wrote in a one- page order that said the appeal will be expedited and that the schedule for briefing and oral arguments will come out later.
Lifting the ban allows the government to temporarily continue funneling tens of millions of dollars to scientists seeking cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, and genetic conditions. Embryonic stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue and may have the potential to accelerate a range of research.
The decision, coming after oral arguments two days ago, was made by Judith Rogers, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, and Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed by former President George W. Bush.
Lamberth on Aug. 23 issued an order temporarily stopping the Health and Human Services Department and the National Institutes of Health from funding or conducting the studies. On Sept. 7, Lamberth denied a U.S. request to reconsider his ruling. The court of appeals then allowed funding to resume pending today’s decision.
‘A Top Priority’
“President Obama made expansion of stem cell research and the pursuit of groundbreaking treatments and cures a top priority when he took office,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “We’re heartened that the court will allow NIH and their grantees to continue moving forward while the appeal is resolved.”
Thomas Hungar, an attorney for the opponents of the funding, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Lamberth cited the still-in-force 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment in his ruling, saying that Congress prohibited funding any research in which a human embryo was destroyed. By implication, that included all stem-cell research, Lamberth said.
In March 2009, Obama reversed an executive order of Bush’s to allow research on cells derived from embryos that would otherwise be disposed of after in-vitro fertilization procedures.
Under Bush’s order in August 2001, Dickey-Wicker was interpreted to allow research on lines of stem cells that already had been created using human embryos. Bush limited federal funding for such research to about 20 existing lines of embryonic cells and banned funding on any additional lines.
Lamberth’s order prevented the National Institutes of Health from acting on grant applications that have been reviewed, and from considering dozens of other applications that are in the review process, the U.S. wrote in its appeal. It may take as long as eight months to reinitiate the review process for grant applications, the U.S. claimed.
The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 10-5287, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).
By William McQuillen