By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration asked a federal judge on Tuesday to lift an injunction halting human
embryonic stem cell research, saying it would irreparably harm research and cost more than 1,300 jobs.
The Justice Department also appealed against the injunction by Judge Royce Lamberth in which he ruled National Institutes of Health funding of human embryonic stem cell research violated a law called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bars federal funding of work that involves destroying embryos.
The administration said Lamberth’s ruling was overly broad and was having a significant negative impact on embryonic stem cell research, arguing that there was “serious doubt” Congress intended the legislation to be so encompassing.
“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 filing said.
The Justice Department asked Lamberth to rule by September 7 on the request to lift his injunction.
Lamberth’s injunction was a setback for President Barack Obama and the issue could become a theme in November elections where his fellow Democrats who control both chambers of Congress are facing tough races.
One of Obama’s first acts after taking office in 2009 was to broaden federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research — a controversial decision because some people oppose any destruction of human embryos, even for medical research.
Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology sued, saying Obama’s policy violated Dickey-Wicker and harmed their own chances of getting funding for similar research not involving embryos.
Sherley and Deisher’s “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,” the Justice Department said.
The administration pointed to 24 projects up for renewed federal funding between now and the end of September and said the benefits from the research could be lost. If the projects ended, it would waste $64 million already invested, the administration said.
Overall, the injunction could put 1,300 jobs at risk, NIH Director Francis Collins said in a declaration to the court.
Earlier on Tuesday, Democratic Representative Diana DeGette said she would push to revive legislation specifically allowing federal funding of the research by the end of September.
“We need to pass legislation in September to fix this problem,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.
DeGette co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that passed both the House and Senate twice and was twice vetoed by then-President George W. Bush.
DeGette said she believed there was support in the House and Senate, as well as in both parties, to push through legislation quickly.