The US Department of Justice [DOJ] [official website] announced Tuesday that it will appeal a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] issued earlier this week blocking federal funding for embryonic stem cell [JURIST news archive] research. The DOJ will seek to appeal the suspension and also to stay the suspension while the appeal is pending. Last year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order [JURIST report] permitting federal funding for some forms of embryonic stem cell research. Despite the executive order, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] held that evidence showed the plaintiffs were substantially likely to prevail based on existing law. White House spokesperson Bill Burton addressed reporters [press briefing] on Tuesday, stating that the Obama administration is "reviewing all possibilities" in order to further the advancement of stem cell research:
The President said very plainly when he laid out his stem cell policy that this is important lifesavingpotentially lifesaving research that could have an impact on millions of Americans and people all around the world. He thinks that we need to do research. He put forward stringent ethical guidelines, and he thinks that his policy is the right one. We're still reviewing the decision from this judge, but what we've seen so far, from what we can tell, this would also stop the research that President Bush had allowed to go forward early in his presidency. So we're exploring all possible avenues to make sure that we can continue to do this critical lifesaving research.The issue that will have to be determined by the appeals court is whether the law banning stem cell research unambiguously blocks any kind of research involving human embryos, or if they law is ambiguous and does not apply to current embryonic stem cell research in which stem cells are taken from fertility clinic embryos that are no longer needed and would have been discarded.
The case had originally been dismissed for lack of standing last October but was reinstated [JURIST reports] in June with only plaintiffs who claimed their their ability to obtain funding for adult stem cell research was harmed by increased competition for federal funds after they were permitted to also be used for embryonic stem cell research. Those 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.