Judge Upholds Stem Cell Funding Ban

A Washington, D.C., judge said this afternoon that his ruling 2 weeks ago, halting all federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, will stand while the case moves forward. Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, responding to a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that he stay his preliminary injunction, released a three-page order late this afternoon denying the request.

“Defendants are incorrect about much of their ‘parade of horribles’ that will supposedly result from this Court’s preliminary injunction,” Lamberth wrote. He’s referring to concerns expressed by DOJ that stopping the research is profoundly disruptive to labs and will delay progress in developing new treatments for a variety of diseases. The National Institutes of Health halted all research within its walls last week, although already funded work outside NIH can continue, for now.

Lamberth believes his hands are tied by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, enacted 14 years ago by Congress to prohibit federal funding for the destruction of embryos. Lamberth interprets that to include funding of research on human embryonic stem cells more broadly, even though the Department of Health and Human Services and several presidential Administrations have not agreed.

“In this Court’s view, a stay [allowing funding to continue] would flout the will of Congress,” Lamberth wrote. “Congress remains perfectly free to amend or revise” the Dickey-Wicker amendment. “This Court is not free to do so.”

The next step in the case is expected to come by the end of this week. At that time, the plaintiffs—adult stem cell researchers James Sherley and Theresa Deisher—expect to file what’s called a motion for summary judgment, which asks that the case be decided without a trial. This could resolve things one way or another—and in the meantime, says Lamberth, the new status quo will stick.

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