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Federal appeals court reinstates stem cell research funding challenge

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday reinstated [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's decision to ease restrictions [JURIST report] on stem cell research [JURIST news archive]. The lawsuit was originally dismissed [JURIST report] by the district court in October for lack of standing. The plaintiffs argued that their ability to obtain funding for adult stem cell research was harmed by increased competition for the funds after President Barack Obama signed an executive order [JURIST report] permitting federal funds to be used for research on embryonic stem cells as well as adult stem cells. Under the guidelines issued in accordance with the executive order, federal funding may be used for embryonic stem cells obtained from embryos that were created to be used in fertility clinics but were no longer needed and would have been discarded. The court held that a party competing for a governmental benefit can assert competitor standing when the government takes steps that would benefit a competitor, causing harm to the party. The panel ruled that plaintiffs meet the basic requirement for standing and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The appeals court refused to consider the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the executive order.

The new guidelines reversed previous rules that limited government funding of embryonic stem cells to only cell lines that were in existence as of August 2001. Despite pressure from the scientific community, the previous administration refused similar changes to funding guidelines. In 2007, then-president George W. Bush vetoed [JURIST report] the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 [S 5 materials], which was intended to relax funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. The administration rejected the bill, saying it would compel taxpayers to support the destruction of human embryos. In 2006, Bush vetoed a previous version [JURIST report] of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Senate to remove restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, saying he would not provide federal funding for stem cell research because many consider the destruction of embryos to be murder.

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