D.C. Court Allows Embryonic Stem Cell Research to Continue During Appeals Process

The U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia has ordered that a district judge’s order blocking the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) embryo-destroying stem-cell research will be suspended while the appeals process works itself out.

The order from Appeals Court judges Judith Rogers, Thomas Griffith, and Brett Kavanaugh, followed two days after oral arguments for and against U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth’s August 23 injunction that banned the NIH from funding further embryo-destroying research under the 1996 Dickey-Wicker amendment.

Lamberth previously denied the U.S. Justice Department’s request to stay his order, saying that Dickey-Wicker was “unambiguous” in its intent, and therefore prohibits federal dollars from going to research that destroys human embryos. Lamberth’s order nullified President Barack Obama’s executive order allowing the NIH to fund up to 75 new lines of stem cells derived from human embryos, which are killed as soon as researchers harvest their stem cells.

The D.C. Court of Appeals had granted the U.S. Justice Department’s motion for an emergency stay on Lamberth’s order on September 9, temporarily lifting Lamberth’s injunction while they reviewed the merits of the government’s argument that the banned scientific research would cause “irreparable harm.”

Dr. Francis Collins stated in written testimony that $546 million dollars had been invested by the NIH in hESC research since 2002, and that $54 million to 24 research projects would be prevented by Lamberth’s order.

The three-judge appeals panel has now dissolved that emergency stay and made their stay of Lamberth’s order permanent for the rest of the appeals process.

The lawsuit against the NIH funding of embryonic stem cell research was filed by two scientists involved in adult stem cell research, Drs. James Sherley of Boston and Theresa Deisher of Seattle, and Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which helps couples adopt human embryos stored in fertility clinics. Sherly and Deisher both sued claiming that President Barack Obama’s order meant the NIH was favoring hESC researchers, starving researchers involved in ethical adult stem cell research for grants.

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

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