Research on the embryo in USA: Illegal federal financing?

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On 23rd August 2010, the judge Royce Lamberth of Washington federal court suspended by interim order the federal financing of the research on human embryonic stem cells. Prohibited by George W. Bush, this financing had been authorised by an order of Barack Obama on 9th March 2009. Then several scientists and organisations appealed, arguing that the embryo is a human being whose destruction could not be legalized and that this financing prejudices the research on adult stem cells, a yet ethical field and whose applications are encouraging.

 

An illegal authorization


In a 15-page text, the judge estimated that the complainants had “demonstrated that they have chance to win on the substance.” Indeed it turns out that the directives enacted following the authorization of Barack Obama violate a legislation from 1996 which is still in force: Dickey-Wicker amendment, which explicitly prohibits the public federal financing of the research “in which an embryo is destroyed“. The supporters for the research on embryonic stem cells had gone around the prohibition by using as an excuse that the cells used for the research do not directly come from an embryo but from cell lines cultivated since several years. Thus the current researches would not imply anymore the destruction of embryos.

 

An “irreparable damage


Yet the magistrate established that this argument was not receivable and that Dickey-Wicker amendment was unambiguously: going around it “would go against the will of the Congress“. “Dickey-Wicker amendment prohibits unambiguously the usage of federal funds for any research in which a human embryo is destroyed. […] To carry on a research on embryonic stem cells (ESC), the ESC must be derived from an embryo. The derivation process of an embryo results from the destruction of the embryo.” Then the term “research” has to be understood in a global way, without the different steps can be separated: “If the Congress would want to limit the prohibition [of Dickey Wicker amendment] to the acts generating themselves the destruction, it would have written this way. But, it did not do it.” “If one of the steps of the project of research on the embryo stem cells results from the destruction of an embryo, the whole project is rejected from the federal financing by Dickey-Wicker amendment.”

It concluded that “ill patients will not suffer [this decision] since the possibility that one day the research on embryonic stem cells can result to the treatment of their disease remains hypothetic.” Also it estimates that the authorization of Barack Obama generates an irreparable damage for the research on adult stem cells to which a part of the financing is withdrawn.

Obama administration appeals this decision on 31st August 2010. If the judge Royce Lamberth maintained his decision, estimating that “the Congress is perfectly free from amending or revising this text, what the court cannot do“, a Court of Appeal, seized by Obama administration decided to suspend this decision until the governmental request was deeply examined. In reaction, several bills for the research on the embryo have been introduced.

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