Congress to Vote on Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill Later This Month

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 3, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Congress to Vote on Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill Later This Month

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 3
, 2010

Washington, DC ( — Members of Congress are expected to vote later this month on legislation that would force taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research. The bill is a response to a judge’s decision saying the executive order President Barack Obama issued to mandate funding violates a federal law.

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.

The Obama administration has appealed the decision, but pro-abortion Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado is pushing for the House to approve her bill that would essentially repeal the law and authorize the embryonic funding Obama wanted.

In an interview with Politico this morning, DeGette says she believes momentum is building for the legislation in the wake of Judge Lamberth’s decision and she believes her bill will pass this month.

DeGette also appeared to be motivated by political concerns — and wants to use the issue of funding embryonic stem cell research as a way to turn out more votes.

"[T]he stars are pretty well aligned,” she said. “This is a positive wedge issue. Supporters can use it in an election because there is strong public support and its opponents look extreme.”

DeGette also claims Judge Lamberth misread the law when he issued his decision, but it appears DeGette doesn’t understand basic science.

“Embryos and stem cells are two entirely different organisms,” and they involve different types of research, she claimed.

DeGette’s comment drew guffaws from Dr. David Prentice, a Family Research Council fellow who is a former biology professor at Indiana State University, who told "she flunked high-school biology."

"Rep. DeGette’s ridiculous statement illustrates why for her this is all political, and not about science or reality," he said. " Embryos are indeed organisms, while stem cells, any stem cells, are just cells but not organisms at all, as even junior high biology clearly shows."

"But embryonic stem cells do come from embryos, and their isolation requires the destruction of the embryo, a living human organism," Prentice explained. "The direct link is quite clear, unless one is trying to confuse people with political double-speak."

Meanwhile, a House Democratic leadership aide told Politico the DeGette bill is “on the table” for a quick vote once Congress reconvenes from its August recess.

Should the House vote on the DeGette bill, it will likely pass it by a wide margin and pro-life advocates would have to look to pro-life senators to filibuster the legislation on the Senate side. However, because several Republicans support forcing taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research — including lawmakers who are pro-life on abortion — and because just one Democratic lawmaker has voted against funding in the past, a filibuster may not be able to be sustained.

The appeal the Obama administration has filed in the case asks Judge Lamberth to put the injunction on hold so taxpayer dollars can continue to flow to embryonic stem cell research projects while the lawsuit against the order moves ahead.

The Obama administration claimed the judge’s order is harming research projects, even though embryonic stem cell research has yet to overcome numerous problems in animals and has never helped human patients.

"Numerous ongoing projects will likely not survive even a temporary gap in funds, jeopardizing both the potential benefit of the research and the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds already invested in it," the Obama administration said.

Judge Lamberth’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by two adult stem cell researchers who said the Obama executive order and subsequent funding from the National Institutes of Health violated the Dickey amendment.

The Obama administration, in its legal papers, claimed the scientists’ "remote economic self-interests do not outweigh the harm the injunction will cause NIH, the hundreds of affected human embryonic stem cell researchers, and the millions of individuals who hold out hope that human embryonic stem cell research will lead to the cure for, or treatment of, their currently incurable illnesses."

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.

The Justice Department asked Lamberth to rule by September 7 on its request to withdraw the injunction while the appeal continues.

In his ruling, Judge Royce 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.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, which awards the funds, said 143 scientific grants worth $95 million, which are now up for annual renewal, will be frozen. Another 22 grants totaling $54 million, whose existing research is coming up for renewal in September, will also be frozen.

And 131 grants awarded this year already are not affected but they will be if the funding is blocked when their renewal comes up.

Steven Aden, a lead attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the adult stem cell researchers who filed the case against the Obama administration, applauded the decision.

"The American people should not be forced to pay for experiments — prohibited by federal law — that destroy human life," he said. "The court is simply enforcing an existing law passed by Congress that prevents Americans from paying another penny for needless research on human embryos."

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

A new poll found only 33% of U.S. voters believe that taxpayer money should be spent on embryonic stem cell research.


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