Attorneys Wrestle for Halt on Embryonic Stem Cell Funding

WASHINGTON – A religious freedom legal team testified in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday to halt federal funds from being "shoveled" into the destruction of embryos for stem cell research.

The Alliance Defense Fund argued for an injunction on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Currently, a temporary stay is allowing researchers to receive federal grants to fund research using embryonic stem cells.

ADF legal counsel Matt Bowman says the Obama administration is taking full advantage of the stay.

"The government is shoveling tax dollars out the door while it can," he stated.

 During the hearing, ADF, in conjunction with attorneys from Advocates International and firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLC, offered oral testimony, maintaining that the stay violates federal law and asking the court to reinstate an August injunction prohibiting the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

"Today, we asked the court to affirm the ruling in our client's favor," said Bowman.

In April, attorneys argued a lawsuit against Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on behalf of Doctors James Sherley and Theresa Deisher. The doctors oppose President Barack Obama's executive order lifting restrictions on federal grants for embryonic stem cell research. They argue that allowing such funding is illegal and will threaten research for adult stem cells.

In August, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia placed a temporary injunction on the Obama's March 2009 executive order, ruling it likely violates the Dickey/ Wicker Amendment.

The amendment, which was passed through Congress in 1995 and signed by President Bill Clinton, states, "None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for (1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero."

The injunction was to remain in place until the court could reach a final ruling on Sherley v. Sebelius.

However, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a request for a stay on the injunction with the D.C. Circuit. The court granted the stay, allowing the government to continue funding embryonic stem cell research.

"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," the D.C. Circuit stated afterwards.

On Monday, Bowman testified that it is clear that the amendment restricts embryonic stem cell research and asked the court to lift the stay. DOJ counsel argued that the stay be prolonged because of the medical value in the research.

"They focused more on that desire (to explore the alleged benefits of embryonic stem cell research) than the statutes that say taxpayer money should not be spent in this destructive way," Bowman said of the opposing counsel's case.

The scientific community believes that stem cells derived from embryos may hold the cure to extreme neurological diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

However, as expressed in the amendment, conservatives oppose the destruction of embryos. Conservative Christians equate it to abortion and instead encourage research on adult stem cells found in cord blood and bone marrow.

"Americans should not be forced to pay for experiments that destroy human life, have produced no real-world treatments, and violate federal law," Bowman proclaimed.

It is unlikely the circuit court will reach a decision on the stay and on the lawsuit before Christmas, Bowman indicated. He is hopeful, however, that both decisions will stop the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

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