Advancing a Free Society

The President’s Stem-Cell Dollars and the Judge’s Rebuke

Saturday, September 4, 2010

By Robert George, Yuval Levin & Matthew J. Franck

On August 23, Judge Royce Lamberth of the federal district court in Washington issued a preliminary injunction halting the implementation of new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, which permitted the use of federal funds to support embryonic-stem-cell (ESC) research that entailed the ongoing destruction of human embryos. This, Judge Lamberth held, violated a restriction on funding embryo-destructive research known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, enacted in each year’s budget since 1996.

The Obama administration had claimed that the destruction of the embryos and the research using stem cells derived from them could be “separated,” so that the latter was publicly funded but the former (to honor the Dickey-Wicker Amendment) was not. In other words, the administration interpreted the law as saying: “Go ahead and kill the embryos using non-governmental funds; then you can use the stem-cell lines produced by killing the embryos for research using taxpayer money without restriction.” Of course, this interpretation would essentially nullify the amendment, treating its command as if it were a meaningless bookkeeping procedure. Judge Lamberth had no difficulty seeing through this shoddy reasoning: “To conduct ESC research, ESCs must be derived from an embryo. The process of deriving ESCs from an embryo results in the destruction of the embryo. Thus, ESC research necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo.”

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