Appeals Court OKs Federal Funds For Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

by Nancy Frazier O’Brien

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A three-judge federal appeals panel has affirmed a lower court ruling that the U.S. government can fund embryonic stem-cell research despite a federal ban on funding any research that harms or destroys human embryos.

Chief Judge David B. Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker amendment was “reasonable” in permitting funding of embryonic stem-cell research using cells derived using private funds.

The amendment, approved annually by Congress since 1996, bars the use of federal monies for “the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes” or “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.”

Sentelle said the funding guidelines promulgated by NIH in 2009 correctly and legally allowed funding only on stem cells derived from embryos created for artificial insemination and donated to scientists after the parents decided to discard them. Embryonic stem cells are also known as “ESCs.”

“‘Research’ as used in Dickey-Wicker may reasonably be understood to mean a ‘discrete endeavor’ that excludes the initial derivation of ESCs,” Sentelle wrote. “Under that interpretation, Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already derived ESCs — which are not themselves embryos — because no ‘human embryo or embryos are destroyed’ in such projects.”

Circuit Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and Janice Rogers Brown concurred with Sentelle’s conclusion, but each wrote separate opinions.