Obama Administration Asks Court to Unfreeze Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Aug 31, 2010 6:55pm

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue, Jason Ryan and Jake Tapper report:

The Obama administration filed court papers on Wednesday asking a federal judge to suspend an order he issued last week that  blocked the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.

"The court’s order causes irrevocable harm to the millions of extremely sick or injured people who stand to benefit from continuing research,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

On August 23rd, District Court Judge Royce Lamberth stunned the medical community when he issued a preliminary injunction against the funding, ruling it violated a 1996 law that forbids federal support for research that involves destruction or damage to a human embryo. 

The administration today asked the Court to allow the funding to continue while the case is appealed “in order to avoid terminating research projects midstream, invalidating results in process and impeding or negating years of scientific progress toward finding new treatments for devastating illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and blindness, as well as crippling spinal cord injuries, through research involving human embryonic stem cells.”

Since Judge Lamberth’s ruling, the National Institutes of Health has suspended millions of dollars of  pending research grants associated with embryonic stem cell research.

In a statement filed with the court, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said, “NIH has directly invested over $546 million of taxpayers’ money in human embryonic stem cell research since 2001. The anticipated financial loss to NIH and to the taxpaying public is enormous and would include the hundreds of millions already spent on interrupted projects and the administrative costs of shutting down and restarting the NIH regulatory regime.” 

The administration contends that no embryos are actually destroyed with federal funds and that the monies only pay for research conducted under strict ethical guidelines on derived stem cells. 

“We’ve said from day one that embryonic stem cell research is a top priority for this administration, and we’re going to do everything possible to prevent the potentially catastrophic consequences of this injunction,” said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Critics disagree with the distinction in how federal funds are used and oppose efforts by the administration to keep the injuction in place. “They crossed a line in science,” says Dr. David Stevens, of the Christian Medical Association, which was an original plaintiff in the case. 

The new guidelines were issued in 2009 after President Obama signed an executive order expanding the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.

“Giving an inducement to scientists to destroy human beings is wrong," said Stevens. “You don’t destroy one individual in pursuit of scientific knowledge."

Gregory Wasson, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and serves as a patient advocate, told ABC News he fears the research will be tied up for months while the appeal process takes place. “Every moment counts at this point in my life, day by day my motor skills decrease. The funding for future research is essential.”

-Ariane de Vogue, Jason Ryan and Jake Tapper

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