U.S. Urges Stem-Cell Funding Stay by Appeals Court

The U.S. Justice Department urged a federal appeals court to maintain its stay on a lower-court order cutting off funds for embryonic stem cell research while it seeks to overturn the trial judge’s ruling.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, after an hour-long hearing, didn’t say when it would decide whether to make the emergency hold extend through the appeal. The Obama administration attorneys argued that even a temporary cutoff would cause irreparable harm to researchers, taxpayers and scientific progress.

The appeals court ruled on Sept. 9 that the government can keep funds flowing for the research at least during the initial stages of the administration’s challenge to the order banning taxpayer support for any activity using cells taken from human embryos.

U.S. Judge Royce Lamberth last month cited the still-in-force 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment in his ruling, saying Congress prohibited funding any research in which a human embryo was destroyed.

The decision will be made by Judith Rogers, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, and Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed by former President George W. Bush.

Beth Brinkmann, an attorney for the Justice Department, told the panel that cutting off funding would waste millions of dollars in already earmarked grants and force scientists to start research over should Lamberth’s ruling ultimately be overturned,.

“We’re not here to” decide “upon the wisdom of the government policy,” said Griffith. Rather, the court is deciding whether the funding violates the statute.

Thomas Hungar, an attorney for stem-cell research opponents, said government attorneys are only speculating on the potential harm, and no injury is imminent or irreversible.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 10-5287, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: William McQuillen in Washington at bmcquillen@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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