(CN) – The chief federal judge in Washington dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop government funding of human embryonic stem cell research, finding that derivation of a stem cell line, which involves the destruction of an embryo, is not part of stem cell research.
In March 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that allowed the use of federal dollars for stem cell research, removing a restriction that President George W. Bush had enacted that limited funding to research on existing stem cells in storage.
Because embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, and can develop into a variety of human cells, stem cell research offers promising treatments and cures for a panoply of diseases and injuries.
The research has been made controversial because some groups claim that it destroys a potential human life, even if the stem cells were going to be thrown away anyway.
Obama orderedall departments and agencies of the federal government that support or conduct stem cell research to adopt new National Institutes of Health guidelines that apply to spending NIH funds for research using human embryonic stem cells that were created by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose. It also opened funding for research on certain uses of human-induced pluripotent stem cells.
Two doctors who use only adult stem cells in their research, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, challenged the institute’s relaxed guidelines in a lawsuit last year.
After Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissedtheir challenge for lack of standing, the D.C. Circuit revivedthe doctors’ claims finding that they compete for funding with scientists that can now use embryonic stem cells.
By August, Lamberth had enjoinedObama’s order, finding it violated Congress’ Dickey-Wicker Amendment of 1996, which prohibits federal funding of research in which human embryos are destroyed. After Lamberth refusedto lift the ban, the D.C. Circuit intervened and granted a stayin September. A subsequent rulinglet funding continue, and on April 29 the court vacated Lamberth’s injunction.
With the injunction vacated, Lamberth said the government felt that the D.C. Circuit had “dealt a mortal wound to plaintiffs’ Dickey-Wicker Amendment claims and that plaintiffs’ APA [Administrative Procedures Act] claims likewise fail because they are premised upon a basic misunderstanding of what was at issue in the NIH’s promulgation of the guidelines.”
He agreed Wednesday, rejecting the doctors’ call disregard the D.C. Circuit’s opinion.
Since the D.C. Circuit had concluded that “research” in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is ambiguous, Lamberth said his court “has become a grudging partner in a bout of ‘linguistic jujitsu,’ such is life for an antepenultimate court.”
“Therefore this court, following the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning and conclusions, must find that defendants reasonably interpreted the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to permit funding for human embryonic stem cell research because such research is not ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed ,'” the 38-page decision states.
If accepted, the doctors’ argument “would lead to such a far-reaching construction of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that it would prohibit federal funding for research entirely unrelated to embryos or embryonic stem cells if the research nevertheless posed some risk to embryos – for example, a research project involving dangerous chemicals or explosive gasses that was in the vicinity of an embryo storage facility – even if the risk of harm to the embryos was merely minimal,” Lamberth added.
The judge also rejected claims that Obama’s directive violated the Administrative Procedures Act.
Earlier in proceedings, the government had arguedthat the ban would cause irreparable harm to the government, forcing the NIH to shut down eight projects worth $9.5 million that involve 45 agency scientists. A ban would threaten $64 million in taxpayer funds that had already been invested in 24 research projects that could aid in cell and tissue regeneration and could help cure disease, the Justice Department claimed.