Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Opponents Appeal Funding Ruling

Opponents of human embryonic stem-cell research asked a federal appeals court to reverse a judge’s ruling that the U.S. may continue to fund experiments in the field.

Two doctors filed their challenge today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking to block the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the National Institutes of Health from spending federal funds on research involving human embryonic stem cells.

In July, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Washington dismissed the lawsuit filed by James Sherley, a researcher at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, founder of AVM Biotechnology in Seattle, citing an appeals court finding that the government-backed research is probably lawful.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on the appeal.

“Each time grant-awarding officials and federally funded scientists support or engage in hESC research, living human embryos are ‘knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death,’ in violation of the federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment,” said Sam Casey, a lawyer for the doctors, in a press release.

Today’s appeal is the third time the case has reached the Washington appellate court.

Lamberth last year temporarily barred the government from funding the research, finding it probably violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. The 1996 law bars government spending on research that damages or destroys a human embryo. In a 2-1 decision in April, the appeals court let the funding continue while Lamberth considered a final ruling. The appellate panel said the language of the statute wouldn’t support a funding cutoff.

Appellate Ruling

“The D.C. Circuit’s conclusion that the term ‘research’ in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is ambiguous binds this court,” Lamberth wrote in his ruling.

The government said the stem-cell research is separate from any that destroys the embryo because the cells must be grown in a medium and are then “differentiated” into other cells, such as nerve cells.

Stem cells derived from embryos develop into different tissues and may lead to cures for conditions such as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and some cancers.

The cells come from human embryos donated by patients of fertility clinics. Abortion opponents say destroying the embryos is equivalent to murder.

In fiscal 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.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 11-5241, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

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