Obama administration will appeal stem cell ruling

Funding on embryonic lines halted

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The Obama administration will appeal a ruling by a federal judge that temporarily blocks federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the Justice Department confirmed on Tuesday.

Department spokesman Matthew Miller said an appeal in the case would likely be filed later this week asking the court to lift a preliminary injunction ordered Monday by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who sided with a coalition of researchers and Christian groups to put on hold the administration’s new guidelines on human embryonic stem cell research.

The ruling dealt the White House a serious setback in its efforts to provide federal funding for the highly sensitive research.

Judge Lamberth granted the preliminary injunction after ruling that President Obama’s executive order likely violated federal law.

Congress has spoken to the precise question at issue — whether federal funds may be used for research in which an embryo is destroyed,” the judge said. “Thus, as demonstrated by the plain language of the statute, the unambiguous intent of Congress is to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds on ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.’”

Judge Lamberth said in his ruling that once the question of the law is decided, the fact question “is whether [embryonic stem cell] research is research in which a human embryo is destroyed. The court concludes that it is.”

Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to destroy a human embryo, and culling stem cells from an embryo does destroy the embryo.

Proponents of embryonic stem cell research have argued that it holds out the possibility of medical breakthroughs for some of the most difficult challenges in the medical field today, from spinal-cord injury to diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, all of which have resisted traditional treatment. They also have noted that once created, stem cells can reproduce indefinitely in laboratories.

Opponents argue that the source of the cells are living human embryos that must be destroyed in the process of taking their stem cells out of their bodies for the research. They also have said that fetal cord blood cells have already proven successful.

The National Institutes of Health said on Tuesday that researchers who already had received $131 million in government funding would continue their work, but other projects — as many as 22 due to cost $54 million — would be stopped.

In his March 2009 executive order, Mr. Obama lifted the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton on Tuesday said the administration is exploring all possible avenues “to make sure that we can continue to do this critical lifesaving research.” He said one of the possibilities being explored was new legislation by Congress to counter Judge Lamberth’s ruling.

Mr. Burton said the president “thinks that we need to do research, he put forward stringent ethical guidelines, and he thinks that his policy’s the right one.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who serves as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor And Pensions Committee, said he would hold hearings on the court ruling as soon as Congress returns next month.

Steven H. Aden, a counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, one of the conservative groups that provided legal help in the case, said taxpayers “should not be forced to pay for experiments — prohibited by federal law — that destroy human life.”

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