Stem Cell Research Can be Federally Funded, Court Rules

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 03, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Siding with the Obama Administration and the National Institute of Health, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last week vacated an earlier preliminary injunction that sought to end federal expenditures on stem cell research.

Though the case will likely proceed at the District Court level, the Judges' interpretation of federal funding law is a huge victory for proponents of said research.

Every year since 1996, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment has been attached to Department of Health funding, banning the use of federal funds in research that destroys embryos.

Embryonic stem cells can only be derived by first extracting them from, and thus destroying, human embryos. It's therefore been clear that government funds cannot be used to create stem cells.

However, since 1999, at variable levels, government researchers have been permitted to use stem cells that were derived pursuant to private funding. The effect of this has been that they could perform stem cell research without running afoul of the ban.

When President Obama reinstituted this policy to its fullest level in 2009, a group of scientists that work on adult stem cells sued, alleging that the policy violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. The lower court granted a preliminary injunction.

In lifting the preliminary injunction, the D.C. Circuit found that it was reasonable for the NIH to conclude that funding stem cell research but not the creation of stem cells was allowed under the statute. Private, not federal, money is funding the destruction of embryos.

The court also pointed to the fact that Congress has reauthorized the Dickey-Wicker Amendment every year since 1996, without change, knowing that the NIH has been funding stem cell research.

Given that a conservative court came to this conclusion, its decision may be indicative of what will happen should the case come before the Circuit on its merits. It's quite friendly towards the NIH's interpretation and stem cell research in general.

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