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Federal judge blocks federal funding for embryonic stem cell research

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [opinion text] Monday blocking federal funding for embryonic stem cell [JURIST news archive] research. 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 held that evidence showed the plaintiffs were substantially likely to prevail based on existing law. The Balanced Budget Downpayment Act of 1996 contained a rider known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which restricted funding for "research" where an human embryo is destroyed. The Obama administration argued that "research" under the amendment was ambiguous and did 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 court rejected that argument, holding that the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is unambiguous and federal funding for any kind of embryonic stem cell research is in clear violation of this Amendment. The ruling came as a shock [NYT report] to scientists who believed that, after Obama's executive order, the matter was settled. Based on the judge's reasoning, all forms of research involving embryonic stem cells could be illegal, even research that was allowed under the more restrictive policies of former president George W. Bush.

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 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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