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Federal judge blocks funds for embryonic stem cell research

WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal judge has temporarily handed opponents of research on human embryos a victory.

Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia issued an order May 9 blocking the federal government from funding embryonic stem cell research until the Bush administration completes its review of controversial guidelines permitting funds for such experimentation.

Foes of the research, which requires the destruction of human embryos, applauded Lamberth’s action, which came in a suit filed against the Department of Health and Human Services and a subsidiary, the National Institutes of Health.

“The court’s stay is an encouraging sign. At least the court recognizes the merits of the case,” said C. Ben Mitchell, biomedical consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“This is a victory for ethics, science and the law,” said Wendy Wright, Concerned Women for America’s communications director, in a written release.

HHS is expected to complete its review of the NIH guidelines in June, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said recently. Those guidelines were issued last August under the Clinton administration to strong protests from members of Congress and other opponents of embryonic stem cell research. The foes argued the rules violate a federal law prohibiting funds for research involving the destruction of human embryos. The ERLC and other opponents of such research have called for President Bush to rescind those rules, but he announced earlier this year HHS would review them. Whatever HHS and the White House decide, Lamberth’s order assures there will be no funding of such research until a decision is announced based on the review.

“We are encouraged that funding for embryonic stem cell research is going to be re-examined,” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “The court’s stay will at least delay the destruction of human embryos.

“We are hopeful that under Secretary Thompson’s leadership NIH will ultimately do the right thing and refuse to participate in research which is illegal, immoral and unnecessary,” Thompson said.

The suit contends funding the research is illegal, as well as “arbitrary and capricious.” Not only do the guidelines violate a congressional ban, but they ignore the evidence that cells derived from sources not requiring the destruction of human life are effective, the suit says. The parties in the suit are Nightlight Christian Adoptions, a California agency that helps in the adoption of live human embryos in storage at in vitro fertilization clinics; the Christian Medical Association; adoptive or potentially adoptive parents of human embryos; and David Prentice, an adult stem cell researcher at Indiana State University.

The NIH rules issued last year allow funds for research using stem cells, as long as the cells are procured, in the process destroying the embryos, when using private funds.

Stem cells are primitive cells from which cells and tissue develop. Their isolation in recent years has produced hopes for using them as replacements to cure such afflictions as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Meanwhile, stem cells from other sources, such as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and placentas, have yielded effective results without the ethical problems. In addition, recent tests showed human fat also is able to produce cells.