On August 23, Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a preliminary injunction on the Obama administration’s embryonic stem cell policy. The order prohibits the administration from continuing to fund embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) due to the fact that it is inconsistent with the 1996 federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. This preliminary ruling required federal funding of ESCR to cease while the case progressed, however the Obama administration was able to successfully appeal the ban and funding can resume while the case is in review. This decision has caused quite a reaction among Pro-Lifers, the science community, and the Obama administration.
Pro-Life organizations are applauding Judge Lamberth’s ruling. The basis is for the decision is that the Dickey-Wicker amendment clearly bans federal funding of any “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.” The Obama administration had been getting around this law by using private funding to obtain stem cells through the destruction of human embryos and then using federal dollars to fund the subsequent research. Judge Lamberth’s ruling has put a stop to this by arguing that “Simply because embryonic stem cell research involves multiple steps does not mean that each step is a separate ‘piece of research’ that may be federally funded.”
Judge Lamberth’s decision has had immediate effects on the scientific community. While scientists and organizations that have already received federal money were allowed to continue to use that money for research, no new grants were to be awarded and existing ones could not be renewed until the case was resolved under Lamberth’s original ruling.
The scientific community is also feeling pressure to deliver ESCR results. Embryonic stem cells have been hailed as a ‘medical elixir’ that will offer treatments for diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and Parkinson’s disease. So far all of this touted potential has not materialized; there is not a single treatment available using embryonic stem cells. It should also be noted that not only has ESCR failed to produce any treatments, but there has been great success with adult stem cell research. There are currently over 70 international studies showing that adult stem cell treatments are not only promising, but have less adverse effects than embryonic stem cells in medical trials. Adult stem cell research also has none of the ethical and moral problems associated with embryonic stem cell research.
The Obama administration has already filed an official appeal of Judge Lamberth’s ruling, and on September 9th, a three judge-panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lifted the ban on federal funding of ESCR, at least until the case is decided. In their one page decision the justices wrote, “The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion.”
It is interesting to note that as this controversy heats up, a Rasmussen poll released last month shows that while 54% percent of Americans believe ESCR to be morally acceptable and 69% believe that ESCR is likely to lead to cures for previously incurable diseases, 57% believe that ESCR should not be federally funded.
Although the long legal road ahead will be challenging, Judge Lamberth’s official court challenge to the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is a significant leap forward for the Pro-Life community.