Judges in Embryonic Stem-Cell Appeal Question Government Studies' Legality

U.S. funding of human embryonic stem cell studies violates the law and must be stopped, a lawyer for two scientists told a federal appeals court whose judges questioned the legality of the research.

The scientists’ attorney, Thomas Hungar, sought to persuade the three-judge panel to halt the flow of federal funds for research where human embryos are injured or destroyed. A lower court judge, who ruled the research violated the 1996 Dickey- Wicker Amendment limiting stem-cell research, had put an immediate, temporary bar on funding while resolving the case. The U.S. appealed that ruling.

“There’s no question they are trying to, and are, incentivizing the destruction of embryos in violation of the amendment,” said Hungar.

A lawyer for the Justice Department, Beth Brinkmann, said the spending is legal because stem cell lines used in the research were created outside the government.

Without the ability to support research on embryonic stem cell lines, the government said several years of progress on finding cures for diseases and disorders will be lost and scientists will look to other countries such as Singapore and China to continue their work.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington on Aug. 23 ordered the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the National Institutes of Health to stop funding embryonic stem cell research.

Research Grants

In fiscal year 2010, NIH spent about $200 million to fund more than 200 human embryo research grants, the Justice Department and the institutes’ director, Francis Collins, said in court papers. Embryonic stem cells can grow into any of the 200 types of cells in the human body. Scientists say these cells have the potential to be used to repair those damaged by injury or disease.

The appeals court in September put Lamberth’s injunction against funding on hold until it reviewed his decision.

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: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net

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

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.