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Government appeals stem cell ruling

Joseph Wright | 9/8/2010, 5 p.m.

The Justice Department recently moved to block a court ruling that prevents use of government funds for embryonic stem cell use. The lower-court decision that bars the use of publicly funded stem cell work was a defeat for President Barack Obama's administration, which quickly vowed to appeal. Research aimed at combating spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, and other ailments were in danger of being stopped as the ruling prevails.

"The government is seeking a stay of the court's injunction to prevent the irreparable human and financial harm that could occur, if these life-saving research projects are forced to abruptly shut down," said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

The White House and scientists said that the recent ruling of Judge Royce Lamberth would prevent even the more restricted stem cell research allowed for the past decade under former President George W. Bush's policies. The appeal halted Lamberth's ruling which, in the view of the Obama administration and his supporters, disrupted an entire field of science.

"In his ruling, Lamberth concluded that last year's order from President Barack Obama expanding support for embryonic stem cell research violated a congressional law," said University of Pennsylvania Professor of Bioethics and Philosophy Arthur Caplan. "In doing so, the judge (prior to the appeal) has both hobbled vital research and left (the United States) lagging behind its competitors around the world as they aggressively move ahead with research using cells from human embryos."

The judge's ruling did not stop the work that scientists call critical to finding new therapies for diseases. The National Institutes of Health told researchers that if they had already received money prior to Lamberth's ruling--$131 million in total--they could continue their stem cell experiments.

Locally, the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science is federally funded to conduct stem cell research in a variety of area but does very little with embryonic stem cells, according to Chris Reid, assistant professor in the College of Science and Health.

"Under (former President George W. Bush), there was a restricted policy of not making federal funds available for stem cell research," explained Professor Mervyn Dymally, director of Charles Drew University Urban Health Institute and a professor at the College of Medicine. "When President Obama took over, he changed that policy. Two scientists went to court to revert to the old policy of not using federal funds for stem cell research, and the administration is appealing that ruling (by Judge Lambert.)

"Scientists believe," Dymally continued, "that (Lamberth's decision) inhibits their research (in) a number of areas that can only be done with the kind of flexibility that the federal funds give them. So, to that extent, (stem cell research) will have a significant impact on the Black community."

Lamberth had ruled that all embryonic stem cell research involves destroying embryos. He said a provision of federal spending bills "unambiguously prohibits the use of federal funds for all research in which a human embryo is destroyed."

Dymally pointed out that those against stem cell research are motivated by philosophical differences to the process. "The resistance to stem cell research is ideological, political, and emotional," the former California Lt. Governor commented. "The old system of not using federal funds for research is an old fight that has to do with abortion and stem cell research."

The legal arguments the judge sided with were brought by researchers who oppose use of embryonic stem cells. Plaintiffs included a group that seeks adoptive parents for human embryos created through in vitro fertilization, the Christian Medical Association, and others.