NIH Tells Some Embryonic Stem Cell Researchers to Ignore Judge’s Ruling

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 1, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

NIH Tells Some Embryonic Stem Cell Researchers to Ignore Judge’s Ruling

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 1
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — A federal judge has struck down the executive order President Barack Obama issued forcing taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research. The Obama administration has appealed the decision, but the National Institutes of Health has issued new guidelines that have pro-life advocates concerned.

Judge Royce Lamberth’s decision said the order runs afoul of the Dickey-Wicker law Congress has approved annually since 1996, which prohibits taxpayer funding of research that destroys human embryos.

Although tens of millions in federal embryonic research grant funds have already been spent, the question now is whether scientists should be spending unused, previously-awarded federal grant money on current embryonic stem cell research projects.

Despite the law and the injunction, NIH has issued new guidance for researchers who have already received federal funds for their embryonic stem cell projects saying they can essentially disregard the ruling.

According to the new NIH guidelines, grants that were funded prior to the August 23 decision and temporary injunction are "not affected" and "award recipients may continue to expend the funds awarded to them prior to the date of the injunction."

Steve Aden, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, one of the pro-life legal groups involved in the lawsuit filed against the executive order, told today that he questions the legality of the NIH guidelines.

"Federal grants incorporate federal law. To the extent that federal law has now been tentatively interpreted by a federal court to prohibit funding this research, I find the NIH’s position questionable," Aden said.

Meanwhile, the less controversial portion of the new guidelines covers future grants awarded after the new injunction.

NIH has suspended future grants "until further notice" meaning any potential grants for funding will not be awarded until either the injunction is lifted or the lawsuit against the executive order is resolved.

NIH makes it clear in the new guidelines that new grants will be temporarily discontinued.

"Any further NIH activity to implement, apply or act pursuant to the NIH Guidelines is hereby suspended until further notice," the new guidelines said. "Issuance of all pending competing, and noncompeting continuation hESC awards and contracts is suspended until further notice. The peer review of all pending competing hESC applications and proposals is suspended until further notice."

The Obama administration also said, "The NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry is not accepting submissions of information about hESC lines for the purpose of establishing eligibility for funding under the NIH Guidelines until further notice. All review of hESC lines for inclusion on the Registry under the NIH Guidelines is suspended until further notice."

In a statement that accompanied the new guidelines, Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of NIH, complained that the injunction against the taxpayer funding "threatens to stop progress in one of the most encouraging areas of biomedical research, just as scientists are gaining momentum — and squander the investment we have already made."


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