On Monday afternoon, U.S. district judge Royce C. Lamberth granted a preliminary injunction to stop federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, striking a disappointing blow to the Obama administration. In his ruling, Lamberth wrote that all embryonic stem cell research involves destroying embryos, violating a piece of legislation called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which in his words, “unambiguously prohibits the use of federal funds for all research in which a human embryo is destroyed.”
Stem cell research is controversial because it is mostly conducted on embryonic stem cell lines. These are cultures of cells obtained by destroying the embryo after removing a stem cell. The research often uses cells from fertility clinics, angering those who believe that these embryos constitute human life, and thus want such research to be declared inhumane.
After the Dickey-Wicker Amendment was passed in 1996, the Clinton administration found a loophole in the law, claiming that if the embryos were destroyed by private researchers, federal funding for research on the stem cells was permissible. The Bush administration narrowed the restrictions on which stem cells could be used, but in 2009, Obama issued an executive order lifting the Bush administration’s strict limits on stem cell research, saying that his administration would “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”
This research has the potential to one day revolutionize the way that conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are treated. But there has always been a fierce political battle in the way. This injunction is temporary and will doubtless be appealed by the Obama administration; stay tuned for more detailed analysis tomorrow.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.