Congress will intervene if a U.S. court rules that federal funding for research using human embryonic stem cells is illegal, Senator Tom Harkin said at a hearing today.
Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and lead author of legislation to authorize federal dollars for the research, said he will take steps to work around any court setback for the policy established by President Barack Obama in March 2009.
“We’ve come too far to give up now,” said Harkin, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that approves the budget for the National Institutes of Health, which provides federal money to researchers. “If we don’t win in the courts, we’ll take it up in Congress.”
Obama’s policy permitting U.S. financing of the work is the subject of a lawsuit brought by adult-stem-cell scientists who claim it violates a 1996 law forbidding taxpayer funding of the destruction of human embryos. Researchers say embryonic stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue and might be harnessed to develop treatments for ailments led by cancer, Parkinson’s disease and juvenile diabetes.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington issued a preliminary injunction Aug. 23 blocking the NIH from granting money for studies using the cells. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington suspended the injunction on Sept. 9, enabling the science agency to resume funding projects. The lower court still must rule on the case and could overturn Obama’s policy.
Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced a bill Sept. 13 that aims to circumvent the legal challenge.
Harkin, who also is chairman of the Senate health committee, faces opposition in the Senate from members who say the research is immoral because embryos are destroyed in the process.
“This is a matter of conscience for me but more importantly, it’s a matter of conscience for millions of Americans,” Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in testimony before the panel. While serving in the U.S. House, Wicker co-authored the 1996 legislation that barred the funding.
Editors: Adriel Bettelheim, Bruce Rule