Stem cell funding wins temporary reprieve

An appeals court ruling permits funding of research while judges consider permanently revoking an earlier injunction.

By — Posted Sept. 9, 2010

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A federal appeals court on Sept. 9 temporarily lifted a ban against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The move gives the National Institutes of Health the option to restore the funding, pending further legal action.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia lifted an August injunction that had forced the NIH to suspend grants for the research. The Dept. of Health and Human Services, on behalf of the NIH, sought to have the injunction removed.

The appeals court said lifting the ban is not evidence that it supports or opposes either party's arguments in the case.

The plaintiffs who won the injunction in a lower court, including two researchers who use nonembryonic stem cells, have until Sept. 14 to file a motion to restore the ban. HHS has until Sept. 20 to file its motion on the injunction.

The ban on federal embryonic stem cell research funding was ordered on Aug. 23 by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He ruled that federal law prohibits any federal funding of research that destroys human embryos, citing language in the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a provision added to HHS appropriations bills annually since 1996.

The plaintiffs -- which include the Christian Medical & Dental Assns., an adoption agency and others -- are confident they will prevail, said Steve Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, part of the plaintiffs' legal team. The alliance takes on cases involving religious freedom.

"We're still looking forward to briefing the case and ultimately prevailing, because we think the law is clear," Aden said.

He said an appeals court decision could come days after both sides file their arguments. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs' legal team filed a motion Sept. 9 asking for a permanent injunction. Lamberth could rule on that motion before the appeals court issues its ruling, Aden said.

The Dept. of Justice is reviewing the ruling, said spokesman Charles Miller. The NIH did not issue a response to the ruling as of this article's deadline.

Lisa Hughes, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said Congress needs to intervene by adopting a measure to end the ban on federal funding of stem cell research. "It is crucial that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research be restored permanently, and this stay is a step in that direction."

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