Embryonic stem-cell policy struck down

August 24, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science

SCIENCE/LIFE ISSUES/STEM CELLS

A microscopic view shows a colony of human embryonic stem cells (light blue) growing on fibroblasts (dark blue). (CNS photo / Alan Trounson, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine via Reuters)

A district court judge overturned government rules Aug. 23 set in place last year by the Obama administration that expanded federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the administration’s policy essentially violated Congress’ Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans federal funding for research that destroys human embryos.

A story in The New York Times summed up the rationale behind the ruling, which rejected a nuance that was key to the administration’s policy:

The judge ruled that the Obama Administration’s policy was illegal because the administration’s distinction between work that leads to the destruction of embryos — which cannot be funded by the federal government under present policy — and the funding of work using stem cells created through embryonic destruction is meaningless. In his ruling, he referred to embryonic stem cell research by its acronym, E.S.C.

“If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an E.S.C. research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding,” wrote Judge Lamberth, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1987 by President Reagan.

In other words, the neat lines that the government had drawn between the process of embryonic destruction and the results of that destruction are not valid, the judge ruled.

Basically, the judge said, you can’t federally fund research that uses destroyed embryos and, at the same time, say those federal funds aren’t linked to the destruction of embryos.

A policy instituted by former President George W. Bush allowed federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research only on stem-cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001. The Obama administration changed that policy. It allowed research using those stem-cell lines as well as lines from embryos created for reproductive purposes at in vitro fertilization clinics and no longer needed for that purpose.

The U.S. bishops have criticized the policy. In the meantime, the extent of the impact of the latest ruling is still unclear. Watch here for updates.

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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