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Injunction Prohibiting Stem Cell Funding Lifted

September 29, 2010

Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research will be allowed to continue for the time being, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Washington, D.C. Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

The decision lifts an injunction put into place by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth on August 23.

According to Reuters, the three-judge panel ruled in favor of those supporting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines, stating that they had “satisfied the standards required for a stay pending appeal.” That “unusually quick” decision, in the words of AP writer Nedra Pickler, came just one day after the judges heard arguments from both sides on Monday.

Lamberth had previously ruled that the Obama administration’s policy regarding the funding violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a federal law barring the use federal tax funds to sponsor research that would cause human embryos to be destroyed.

“Congress remains perfectly free to amend or revise the statute,” Lamberth had written in a September 9 order upholding the injunction. “This court is not free to do so.”

During Monday’s testimony, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Beth Brinkmann told the appeals court judges that the injunction would stop funding to 24 research projects at the NIH–projects which, she said, had already received more than $60 million in taxpayer funds.

When challenged on her claims by Judge Thomas Griffith, who asked whether or not the work for be irreparably harmed due to the injunction, she responded that it would “be a setback” and that biological materials would have to be destroyed as a result.

Joining Griffith on the panel were justices Judith Rodgers and Brett Kavanaugh. Rodgers was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, while both Griffith and Kavanaugh were appointees of former President George W. Bush.

Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was banned by the Bush administration in 2001. Current President Barack Obama overturned that ban in March 2009, who according to CNN said at the time that he was convinced that the government had been “forced” into “what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.”

“President Obama made expansion of stem cell research and the pursuit of groundbreaking treatments and cures a top priority when he took office,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement following Tuesday’s ruling. “We’re heartened that the court will allow NIH and their grantees to continue moving forward while the appeal is resolved.”

However, as Jeremy Pelofsky of Reuters points out in a Wednesday morning article, “Even with funding allowed to continue, possibly only temporarily, the White House could turn to Congress in hopes lawmakers will rewrite the law to be clearer on the issue”¦ NIH could also try to rewrite its guidelines to conform with the law, or the White House could appeal to the Supreme Court if the appeals court rules against it on the merits of the case.”

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