Federal judge denies motion to lift stem cell funding block
A federal judge Tuesday denied a motion to lift an injunction he issued two weeks ago barring the government from funding research involving human embryonic stem cells.
U.S. Chief District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia rejected a request by the Obama administration to lift the temporary injunction he issued pending an appeal of the decision.
But Lamberth indicated that his injunction was less restrictive than had been originally 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 administration of President Bush or that had previously been "awarded and funded," Lamberth wrote. He also indicated 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. Lamberth ruled the funding violated a federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker amendement, which bars federal tax money to be 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 original decision was hailed by opponents of the research, who argue it is immoral to destroy human embryos. But 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 already 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 around the country are scrambling to try to figure out how they are going to continue their research.
The Justice Department asked that the injunction be lifted as it appeals the decision, arguing 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, the group that has led lobbying efforts to for greater stem cell funding, issued the following statement:
"We are disappointed with today's Order to deny NIH's Emergency MotionTo 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 late Tuesday said the government was still reviewing it.
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