It was almost exactly a year ago that Chief Judge Royce Lamberth for the U.S. District Court in Washington shocked scientists by temporarily shutting down funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Now, however, after the case was returned to him, Lamberth has reversed himself, and officially dismissed the case filed by two researchers working with adult stem cells.
James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher had charged that the policy allowing funding of research using embryonic stem cells — but not funding to destroy the embryos needed to derive those cells — illegally violated the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment. That's language included by Congress in annual spending bills every year since 1995 that prohibits the use of federal funds to create embryos for research or to destroy or discard them.
It wasn't exactly that Lamberth changed his mind on the subject from last year, when he opined that the plaintiffs in the case — the two adult stem-cell scientists — were likely to prevail.
Rather, the judge wrote in a 38-page decision, he was bound by the reasoning of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which, in overturning his injunction in April, made him "a grudging partner in a bout of 'linguistic jujitsu.' Such is life for an antepenultimate court."
Supporters of embryonic stem-cell research, who hope it will someday produce breakthrough treatments for everything from Parkinson's disease to spinal cord injuries, were thrilled with the ruling.
"Today is a good day for millions of Americans looking to the promise of ethical embryonic stem-cell research to treat or even cure their disease," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who has repeatedly introduced legislation to specifically authorize federal embryonic research funding. "As the Appeals Court ruled in April, a decade's worth of work and literature has established the acceptability of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case, however, hinted that they may not give up just yet.
"The law is clear, and we intend to review all of our options for appeal of this decision," said a statement from Steven Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund. "In these tough economic times, it makes no sense for the federal government to use taxpayer money for this illegal and unethical purpose."