The U.S. Congress never intended to put a halt to research involving stem cell lines derived from human embryos, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice in its latest argument seeking to overturn the ban.
Research involving stem cells lines derived from human embryos can go on for now, after a federal appeals court stayed a judge’s decision to bar the funding while it considers arguments for and against the ban.
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. President Barack 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 a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a temporary stay on 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.
The Justice Dept.’s most recent argument holds that Congress never intended for the Dickey-Wicker rules to bar all embryonic stem cell research.
"The National Institutes of Health has funded research using embryonic stem cells since 2002, and has not interpreted the Amendment to bar such grants,” according to court documents. "Fully aware of NIH practice, Congress has used the same language in reenacting the funding limitation, and has repeatedly made clear that NIH’s practice is consistent with the statute. Indeed, the relevant Committee Report for the 2010 appropriations bill, enacted after issuance of the current NIH guidelines, noted that the bill ‘should not be construed to limit Federal support for research involving human embryonic stem cells carried out in accordance with policy outlined by the President.’"
That’s because research using stem cell lines already in existence doesn’t involve the destruction of the embryos, the DOJ argued.
"The bar posited by plaintiffs and the district court has never existed," according to the documents. "[R]esearch using embryonic stem cells is not ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.’ Plaintiffs insist that this consistent interpretation reflects a ‘warped reading of the term "research,"’ which should be understood to mean a ‘systematic investigation.’ Referring to scientific research projects as ‘systematic investigations’ adds nothing to plaintiffs’ argument and does not expand research funded by NIH to include antecedent acts that were not funded by NIH."
Furthermore, the Justice Dept. argued, barring federal funding of the research will have a catastrophic impact on medical research.
"Disruption of ongoing research will result in irreparable setbacks and, in many cases, may destroy a project altogether. In contrast, the two plaintiff scientists identify no imminent irreparable injury," according to the department.
Justice Dept. lawyers and attorneys for Sherley and Deisher are slated to present oral arguments before a three-judge appeals court panel Sept. 27.