In an April 29th ruling, a majority of judges from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has declared that federal funding can be used for research involving human embryonic stem cells, overturning a stunning decision by Judge Royce Lamberth rendered last August. Though Judge Lamberth's ruling was stayed indefinitely soon after it's announcement, scientists have remained guarded about a potentially precarious funding situation in regard to federally funded research projects involving human embryonic stem cells. This current ruling has officially overturned Lamberth's decision, though it could likewise be appealed.
The debate about the use of using federal funds to support human embryonic stem cell research was thought to be put to rest after President Obama signed an executive order lifting the ban soon after his inauguration. However, two scientists who conduct work exclusively on adult embryonic stem cells – Drs. James Sherley and Theresa Deisher – filed suit soon after, claiming that allowing federal funding for embryonic stem cells would put their own research funding in jeopardy. Interestingly, while most people against embryonic stem cell research cite religious or moral beliefs, the above scientists have not made such claims – at least not publicly.
Judge Lamberth's ruling last August cited language from the Dickey-Wicker Amendment of 1996, which states "the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes" and "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero". However, in a 2-1 split decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that federal funding can continue for human embryonic stem cell research, while acknowledging that the amendment text is "ambiguous".
I had the pleasure of attending a research seminar with Dr. Sherley when he came to Penn last fall, only a few months after last August's ruling (which I reported on here). No one in the audience asked him any questions about his involvement in the case, but I can assure you that most people knew his stance on the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
It will be interesting to see the continued development of this case and whether it ends up in the US Supreme Court. But for now, federal funding can officially continue for research on human embryonic stem cells.
Source: ABC News