Posted by: matt25 | September 3, 2010

Why Did A Judge Conclude Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Violates the Law?

Why Did A Federal Judge Conclude that Federal Funding of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Violates the Law?

Posted By Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco O.P. On August 25, 2010 @ 3:50 pm In Bioethics in the News,Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P.,That’s a Good Question

Fourteen years ago, the United States Congress passed a law that contained an amendment, known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, renewed every year since, which prohibited the use of federal funds for “(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) 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 under” applicable federal regulations.

[1]Three years later, in 1999, the Clinton administration determined that this amendment did not apply to human embryonic stem (ES) cell research because these ES cells are not embryos as defined under the law.  Specifically, the federal government concluded then, as it continues to argue today, that there is a difference between research involving the derivation of human ES cells – which involves the destruction of a human embryo – and ongoing research with these human ES cells, once they had been obtained.   Thus, the Obama Administration through the National Institutes of Health, published final guidelines on July 7, 2009, that allowed “funding for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from human embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose.”

In response to the NIH guidelines to permit the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, Drs. James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher, both scientists involved in adult stem cell research, and several other plaintiffs, filed suit against the federal government arguing that the NIH guidelines had violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  They sought a preliminary injunction that would prevent the federal government from funding ES cell research, because they argued that their own research with adult stem cells would be irreparably harmed from the increased funding competition for NIH’s limited resources.

On August 23, 2010, Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that the NIH Guidelines had indeed violated the law.  The federal judge argued that the term “research” as used in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment has only one meaning, i.e., “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.”  In other words, according to Judge Lamberth, research involves a research program from beginning to end.  Thus, in his opinion, the federal government could not make a distinction between the first stages of ES cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos and later stages of ES cell research that does not.  Any research having to do with ES cells, according to the federal judge, is ES cell research.  As such, federal funding of human ES cell research at every stage from beginning to end would violate the Dickey-Wicker amendment, since human ES cell research, by its very nature, involves the destruction of human embryos.

Finally, I should note that it is striking that Judge Lamberth reached the same conclusions made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in its recent bioethical instruction, Dignitas personae.  In that instruction, the CDF concluded that “the use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them – even when these are provided by other researchers through the destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available – presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal” (no. 32).  In other words, according to the CDF, any research with human ES cells is morally problematic because of its close link to the grave moral evil that comes with the unjust killing of innocent human beings.


Judge Royce Lamberth’s Decision: [2]

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas personae: [3]

via Why Did A Federal Judge Conclude that Federal Funding of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Violates the Law? | Catholic Bioethics Channel.


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