WASHINGTON – An appeals court Thursday lifted a temporary injunction barring the federal government from funding research involving human embryonic stem cell research.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a request from the Justice Department to stay an injunction issued Aug. 23 blocking the funding. In a major victory for supporters of the research, the court said the Obama administration could resume funding the research pending a full appeal of the case.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, ruling in a lawsuit filed by two researchers working on alternatives to the cells, said the funding violated a federal rule that prohibits federal tax money from being used for research that involves the destruction of human embryos.
The original decision was hailed by opponents of the research, who argue it is immoral to destroy human embryos. But it was condemned by supporters and advocates for patients, who said it was a major setback for one of the most promising areas of biomedical research.
In response to the order, the National Institutes of Health announced it was suspending consideration of any new grants for such research. Any researchers who had already received funding could continue their work, but their grants would not be renewed when they come up for routine review, the NIH said. As a result, hundreds of scientists around the country are scrambling to try to figure out how they are going to continue their research.
The Justice Department asked that the injunction be lifted as it appeals the decision, arguing the halt to the funding was causing irreparable harm to researchers, the federal government and patients hoping for cures.
Thursday’s decision was hailed by supporters of the research. “We are very pleased that the Court of Appeals has stayed the preliminary injunction. It is crucial that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research be restored permanently and this stay is a step in that direction,” said Lisa Hughes, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a coalition of patient advocacy groups, scientists and research organizations that has lobbied for the funding.