Judge’s Embryonic Funding Ruling Shows Dickey-Wicker Important

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Jul 31, 2011   |   3:12PM   |   Washington, DC

In a reversal of a previous ruling, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has rejected the case brought by two adult stem cell scientists to halt the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Theresa Deisher, co-founder of the Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, and James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute claim that their research is negatively impacted by the National Institutes of Health funding of embryonic stem cell research.  They rightly argue that the NIH has limited funds for stem cell research.

Money that is granted to embryonic stem cell research  is not only prohibited by the Dickey Amendment but is money that could be spent on adult stem cell research instead.   The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is a very important piece of federal legislation that is part of the Department of Health and Human Services budget.  It expressly prohibits the use of federal tax dollars in any research that creates or harms human embryos.  The Dickey-Wicker Amendment was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 and has been renewed every year since.

When President George W. Bush funded embryonic stem cell research for the first time in 2001, he placed limits on which cell lines were eligible for funding.  Bush limited funding to cell lines created before August of that year.  This was an attempt to be in compliance with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment because funds could not go to any new lines where new embryos had to be destroyed.  In 2009, President Obama removed Bush’s restriction which opened federal dollars for work on new embryonic stem cell lines created by destroying more embryos.

Sherley and Deisher argued that funding embryonic stem cell research on new ESC lines is a de facto funding of the destruction of embryos.  Last year Judge Lamberth agreed with Sherley and Deisher that expanding the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  Lamberth wrote:

“If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an E.S.C. research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding,”

Lamberth placed a temporary injunction on funds for embryonic stem cell research.  The Obama Administration appealed the decision and Lamberth’s injunction was overruled by a higher court.  Sherley and Deisher then asked for a summary judgment which Lamberth announced today.  He said was bound by the higher court ruling and had to dismiss the case.  From the AP:

Lamberth said in his opinion Wednesday that he is bound by the higher court’s analysis and ruled in favor of the administration’s motion to dismiss the case.

The dismissal of this suit is a defeat for those of us who do not want our tax dollars to pay for research that is only possible because of the destruction of the smallest members of our species.   But this ruling is also reminder of the importance of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  Many other countries around the world have laws in place that protect the human embryo from exploitation at the hands of researchers.  The United States has no such protections.  The only thing the United States has is the Dickey-Wicker Amendment which prevents only the federal government from paying for research that creates and destroys embryos.  Such research can proceed freely, just without our tax dollars.

There are many who call for the demise of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  Without it the National Institutes of Health will be free to fund the creation of embryos, with IVF or cloning, for express use in research. When President Clinton signed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment into law in 1996 it was a time when everyone seemed to understand that the government funded creation and destruction of human embryos was a horror straight out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  What a difference only 15 years makes.