Legal donnybrook over stem cell research continues

December 7, 2010 by MassDevice staff

Lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit seeking to stop federal funding of embryonic stem cell research argue their cases in to a federal appeals panel.

stem cells

The legal donnybrook over whether the federal government can fund research that uses stem cells derived from human embryos went another round yesterday, as lawyers for both sides made their cases to a three-judge federal appeals court panel.

President Barack Obama's administration is appealing a lower court decision banning federal funding of the research. 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 Lamberth's decision "is fundamentally flawed and should be reversed," according to a Nature blog, The Great Beyond.

"We have Congressional ratification and a clear legislative history," Brinkmann said, according to the blog.

Thomas Hungar, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said federal funding of the research creates an incentive to destroy human embryos.

"Federal funding of this research to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars absolutely creates more than a minimal risk that an embryo is going to be destroyed," Hungar said.

"There is now an incentive for the future destruction of human embryos," he added, according to the Wall Street Journal. "It creates more than a minimal risk."