Democrat Pushes Bill to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research After Ruling

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 25, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Democrat Pushes Bill to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research After Ruling

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 25
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — A member of Congress who has been the leading advocate for forcing taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research says she plans to move ahead with legislation that would make such funding federal law.

Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, is responding to a judge’s decision issuing a temporary injunction against the funding President Barack Obama mandated through his executive order.

U.S. district court Judge Royce Lamberth granted a preliminary injunction against the funding.

Before the ruling, DeGette had filed legislation intended to codify Obama’s executive order and overturn the Dickey-Wicker law preventing taxpayer funding involving the destruction of human embryos the judge used to stop Obama’s order.

Although the Obama administration has announced it will appeal the decision later this week, DeGette wants Congress to consider her bill and she may push it hard because the makeup of Congress is expected to change significantly in the pro-life direction after the November elections.

DeGette hopes her bill will come to the floor when Congress reconvenes following its August recess.

"[The] ruling underscores why we must pass common-sense embryonic stem cell research legislation, placing these regulations into statute and once and for all, ensuring this critical life-saving research can be conducted for years to come, unimpeded by political whims or naysayers," she said.

She claimed, "Today’s ruling is the case of one judge ignoring the scientific fact that research on pluripotent stem cells is not the same as research on an embryo."

Congress already twice approved a similar bill DeGette sponsored to mandate embryonic stem cell research funding prior to Obama’s election and President George W. bush vetoed it twice saying it "crossed a moral boundary."

“If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," he said at the time.

DeGette said last month she had been pushing House Democratic leaders to move forward with legislation proposed prior to the judge’s ruling.
“It’s necessary to establish it in statute because an executive order obviously can be rescinded,” the congresswoman told The Hill. “Researchers are loath to undertake research projects if they’re afraid they’ll be shut down.”

Yet, with the midterm elections coming up, some lawmakers may feel hard-pressed to vote for a controversial bill at the same time they are facing tough re-election bids.

As DeGette pushes her legislation in the House, pro-abortion Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, who is chairman of the Senate health committee and also chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee that funds medical research, said yesterday he plans a hearing on embryonic stem cell research on September 16.

The Wall Street Journal indicates Harkin is calling for an appeal of the judge’s decision.

Judge Lamberth’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by stem cell researchers who said the Obama executive order and subsequent funding from the National Institutes of Health violated the Dickey amendment, the federal law prohibiting funding the destruction of human embryos via research.

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Tuesday at a press conference that the Obama administration will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to lift the preliminary injunction Judge Lamberth issued.

Meanwhile, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins held his own press conference and said the injunction will not stop scientists who already received some federal funds from conducting embryonic stem cell research, which has never helped any patients.

"We are reassuring those who already have grants that were funded that they can continue with their research," he said.

Collins said NIH officials were surprised by the ruling but said some $130 million worth of ongoing research would not be halted.

Collins said the decision would halt millions planned for 50 applications for new rounds of taxpayer funding of research that has still failed to find success in animal studies because of problems such as embryonic stem cells causing tumors and triggering immune system rejection issues. Also, another annual set of $54 million in grants expected to be sent in September will now not go out.

In his decision, Lamberth noted that the imposition of an injunction required that those challenging the government’s funding demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits for their arguments. Apparently, they succeeded.

"(Embryonic stem cell) research is clearly research in which an embryo is destroyed," Lamberth wrote in the 15-page ruling.

The Court noted, "Embryonic stem cell (ESC) research necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo," and concluded that funding such research violates existing law.

Dr. Theresa Deisher, of AVM Biotechnology and Dr. James L. Sherley, a former MIT professor and scientist, are parties to the lawsuit because they say the Obama order sends funding for their adult stem cell research to scientists working with unproven embryonic stem cells.

"There is no after-the-fact remedy for this injury because the Court cannot compensate plaintiffs for their lost opportunity to receive funds," Lamberth wrote.

He said his order would not hurt embryonic stem cell researchers because they have the opportunity to find private funds.

Groups that were a party to the lawsuit and pro-life organizations have applauded the decision.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2009, alleges that the guidelines governing destructive embryonic stem cell research implemented by the Obama administration in July “are contrary to law, were promulgated without observing the procedures required by law."

The lawsuit says the guidelines violate the Dickey-Wicker appropriations provision regarding embryo research that prohibits federal funding of creating human embryos by any method, explicitly including human cloning, or any "research in which" human embryos are harmed in any way.

Thomas G. Hungar, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, which includes the Alliance Defense Fund and the Christian Medical Association, said in 2009 when the lawsuit was filed, "the language of the [Dickey-Wicker] statute is clear" that it "bans public funding for any research that leads to the destruction of human embryos."

"NIH’s attempt to avoid Congress’s command by funding everything but the act of ‘harvesting’ is pure sophistry. The guidelines will result in the destruction of human embryos and are unlawful, unethical, and unnecessary," he told at the time.

Sam Casey, General Counsel of Advocates International’s Law of Life Project, a public interest legal project involved in the case, pointed out that NIH officials have admitted they violated the public comment process by ignoring the majority of comments coming from pro-life advocates opposed to destroying unborn children for their stem cells.

"The majority of the almost 50,000 comments that the NIH received were opposed to funding this research, and by its own admission, NIH totally ignored these comments," he said. "The so-called spare human embryos being stored in IVF clinics around the United States are not ‘in excess of need,’ as the NIH in its guidelines callously assert. They are human beings in need of biological or adoptive parents."

Embryonic stem cell research has yet to help a single patient, unlike adult stem cell research — which has helped patients with more than 100 diseases and medical conditions and which President Bush supported with hundreds of millions in federal funding.

The NIH rules say fertility clinics need only provide couples with the options available at that clinic, which likely do not include the possibility of adopting the human embryo to a couple wanting to allow the baby to grow to birth.

The guidelines also suggest that IVF doctors and human embryonic stem cell research scientists “should be” different people, but there is no requirement. That could result in the purposeful creation and destruction of human life rather than merely using "leftover" human embryos.

While the Obama-NIH guidelines prohibit NIH funds from funding cloning research they also re-state that the NIH can fund embryo-destructive research in spite of the Dickey-Wicker federal provision against funding research in which a human embryo is harmed.


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