WASHINGTON – A lawsuit that had threatened to end the Obama administration’s funding of embryonic stem cell research was thrown out Wednesday, allowing the U.S. to continue supporting a search for cures to deadly diseases over protests that the work relies on destroyed human embryos.
The lawsuit claimed that research funded by the National Institutes of Health violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo. But the administration policy allows research on embryos that were culled long ago through private funding.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, chief of the federal court in Washington, last year said the lawsuit was likely to succeed and ordered a stop to the research while the case continued. But responding to a swift protest from the Obama administration, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here quickly overturned Lamberth’s injunction and said the case was likely to fail.
The attorneys who brought the suit said in a statement that they are weighing their options for appeal. They pointed out that Lamberth said in his ruling in favor of the administration that he is bound by the higher court’s analysis.
“This Court, following the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning and conclusions, must find that defendants reasonably interpreted the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to permit funding for human embryonic stem cell research because such research is not ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed,’ ” Lamberth wrote.
Researchers hope one day to use embryonic stem cells in ways that cure spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. Opponents of the research object because the cells were obtained from destroyed human embryos. Though current research is using cells culled long ago, opponents also fear research success would spur destruction of new embryos. Proponents say the research cells come mostly from extra embryos discarded anyway by fertility clinics.