LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
We're reporting this morning on a new twist in the long-running battle over stem cell research. The Obama administration has been set back in its effort to boost federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, now that a judge has issued a preliminary injunction stopping that funding. The judge found that the research necessarily destroys human embryos, and that the federal government cannot, therefore, legally pay for it.
NPR's Scott Horsley has more.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Hopes were high in the White House East Room last year when President Obama signed an executive order clearing the way for expanded federal funding of stem cell research. His move lifted the strict limits on funding President Bush had imposed eight years earlier.
President BARACK OBAMA: We will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these past eight years. We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research.
(Soundbite of applause and cheering)
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said stem cells' promise to treat diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes would only be realized with the backing of federal research funds. He acknowledged using stem cells derived from human embryos raises genuine concerns, but he insisted the government does not have to choose between sound science and morality.
Pres. OBAMA: As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research, and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.
HORSLEY: The National Institutes of Health set about drafting guidelines to spell out what responsible research on embryonic stem cells would be eligible for federal funding: only those cells derived from embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization procedures, and only with the donors' consent.
The government still had to contend, though, with the so-called Dickey-Wicker Amendment, adopted in 1996, two years before research on embryonic stem cells began. That amendment prohibits federal funding of any research in which human embryos are destroyed. The NIH tried to get around that by saying the government would not pay for extraction of the stem cells which destroys the embryo, only the subsequent research.
Steven Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund didn't buy that argument, and neither did the federal judge.
Mr. STEVEN ADEN (Legal Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund): If one step of a project results in the destruction of the embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding.
HORSLEY: Aden represented a pair of researchers who study adult stem cells. Those cells are less controversial because they're not derived from embryos, but may also have less potential. The researchers argued that any money the government spends studying embryonic stem cells could come at the expense of their own, more established work.
Mr. ADEN: We hope that they will continue to fund, as the Bush administration did, the productive research into adult stem cell therapies that has proven to be so promising.
HORSLEY: The Obama administration declined to comment on the judge's ruling yesterday. The Justice Department said only that it's studying the opinion. But embryonic stem cell researchers were deeply disappointed.
Sean Tipton of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says researchers were counting on federal funds, and now they've been stopped in their tracks.
Mr. SEAN TIPTON (American Society for Reproductive Medicine): So it's devastating for researchers who have wanted to use federal funds to pursue this work for more than 10 years. They have finally gotten a green light. And suddenly, the light has turned to red without any warning.
HORSLEY: Yesterday's ruling is preliminary, and could be reversed by the courts. Tipton says Congress could also restore the research funding by simply repealing or amending the Dickey-Wicker rule.
Mr. TIPTON: I think the American people have been waiting more than 12 years to get this work going, and they are going to demand congressional action to allow it to continue.
HORSLEY: In surveys by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans have consistently said pursuing the promise of embryonic stem cells is more important than protecting left-over embryos.
Scott Horsley, NPR news, Washington.
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