Court OKs Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Pending Appeal

A federal appeals court in Washington is allowing the U.S. government's funding of embryonic stem cell research to continue as the case against it makes way through the court system.

Just one day after hearing arguments over the issue, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit made permanent the stay requested by the Obama administration on a district court judge's order last month to halt federal funding of the controversial research.

Earlier this month, the appeals court temporarily lifted the preliminary injunction issued by Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for D.C., who said the funding violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment – a 1996 law that prohibits funding for research that involves destruction or damage to a human embryo.

The Obama administration, however, argued that the funding to date has not been used to destroy embryos but only for research. Furthermore, it claimed that an injunction – even a temporary one – could harm "numerous" research projects.

"Numerous ongoing projects will likely not survive even a temporary gap in funds, jeopardizing both the potential benefit of the research and the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds already invested in it," the Obama administration said.

Critics of the research, however, maintain that the process of harvesting the embryonic stem cells will require the destruction of embryos – a main reason why opponents of the controversial research liken it to abortion.

Furthermore, they say granting a stay pending appeal, even of short duration, would "flout[] the will of Congress," and that "the public interest is served by preventing taxpayer funding of research that entails the destruction of human embryos."

"This funding violates the plain language of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, in which Congress prohibits federal funding of 'research in which' a human embryo is 'destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death,'" remarked Sam Casey, general counsel for Advocates International, one of the groups that argued against federal funding of the research Monday.

Despite the arguments, the three-judge panel decided Tuesday to grant the Obama administration's request to allow the funding from the National Institutes of Health while it appeals last month's order blocking the research. The court also said it would expedite the case.

In response, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration is "heartened that the court will allow NIH and their grantees to continue moving forward while the appeal is resolved."

"President Obama made expansion of stem cell research and the pursuit of groundbreaking treatments and cures a top priority when he took office," he noted.

NIH director Francis Collins, in a statement attached to the Obama administration appeal, said the NIH has invested more than $546 million in federal dollars for human embryonic stem cell research since 2001.

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