Today in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a hold on an August 23rd ruling by District Judge Royce Lamberth intended to prohibit federal funding for research conducted on embryonic stem cells.
The initial ruling by Judge Lamberth sent shockwaves across the scientific community, as researchers scambled to ensure their experiments would not be interrupted, even if that meant finding private funding very quickly. Faculty and graduate students at numerous institutions were implementing crisis plans, some as meticulous as not even allowing cell culture media purchased by federal dollars to be used in experiments on stem cells. With a stay on Judge Lamberth's ruling in place, however, stem cell labs can breathe a sigh of relief – for the immediate time, at least.
Stem cell research, especially that which uses embryonic stem cells, has been a poltical wedge issue for the past decade. Former President George W. Bush issued an executive order banning federal dollars from funding embryonic stem cell research, with the only exception coming for lines of cells created before the ban took place in 2001. Current President Barack Obama reversed this executive order as one of his first actions in office.
The main issue in this case focuses on the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a law passed in 1996 that prohibits federal funding for any research "in which a human embryo is destroyed". In his initial ruling, Lamberth expanded the reach of this amendment to ban all federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, an even stronger position than the former Bush Administration took in regard to stem cell research. Lamberth himself said that Congress is free to repeal or amend the Dickey-Wicker amendment.
Source: Bloomberg News