Monday, August 23, 2010

Judge Blocks Federal Stem Cell Research

A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the federal government from funding medical research involving human embryonic stem cells, a blow to the Obama administration's bid to expand stem-cell research efforts.

U.S. Chief District Court Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington ruled that government funding for embryonic stem-cell research was barred by a law that prohibits the use of federal money for research in which an embryo is destroyed.

Lamberth said Congress clearly intended to bar federal funding of research involving embryo destruction, and added, "This Court is bound to apply the law as it is written."

The judge rejected the Obama administration's argument that embryonic stem-cell research itself did not result in the destruction of embryos.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order lifting barriers to stem-cell research that had been established under President George W. Bush. In July 2009, the National Institutes of Health issued specific guidelines on use of stem cells.

The guidelines allowed funding for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from human embryos created by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed.

Bush, in 2001, had restricted federal funding only to research involving the limited number of embryonic stem-cell lines that were already in existence.

Many social conservatives oppose the research. A group of doctors and Christian organizations filed a lawsuit last year challenging the NIH guidelines.

Steven Aden, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund and a lawyer for the challengers, said the ruling "is in line with Congress's intention that taxpayer funds should not be used to destroy human life."

The White House and NIH referred requests for comment to the Justice Department. A Justice spokeswoman said the agency was reviewing the ruling.

Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said the judge's injunction "blocks important research on how to unlock the enormous potential of human embryonic stem cells."

"It will be incredibly disruptive and once again drive the best scientific minds into work less likely to yield treatments for conditions from diabetes to spinal cord injury," Tipton said.

Stem cells are the building blocks of the body's tissues and organs. Those derived from embryos can develop into any type of tissue and are considered especially promising for research into diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

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