Appeals court splits over embryonic stem cells

September 28, 2010 by MassDevice staff

Three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit revealed a division over whether to overturn a ban on federal funding of research using embryonic stem cells.

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The three-judge panel on a federal appeals court considering whether to overturn a ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research revealed a split during a hearing yesterday.

President Barack Obama's administration is appealing a lower court decision banning federal funding of the research. During yesterday's hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, two of the judges questioned the U.S. Justice Dept.'s arguments that the ban would do irreparable harm to the public interest, while a third seemed more sympathetic.

Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had ruled that federal funds could not be used for the the research, derailing scores of projects looking into the causes of diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and cystic fibrosis. Obama had sought to restore stem cell research funding from constraints imposed under the Bush administration, but Lamberth ruled that the policy violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, aimed at stopping the destruction of human embryos.

But Dickey-Wicker proved to be a sticky wicket for both plaintiffs and defendants when the appeals court issued a temporary stay of the Lamberth ruling.

Obama's policy allowed the use of stem cell lines derived from frozen embryos from fertility treatments that were no longer needed and donated according to stringent ethical guidelines. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, argued that the Obama policy violated the Dickey-Wicker rules.

Beth Brinkmann, a Justice Dept. lawyer, argued that the ban would be a waste of the $64 million that's already been spent on 24 research projects at the National Institutes of Health, according to news reports. Thomas Hungar, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called that argument speculation and maintained that no injury is imminent or irreversible.

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