The legal mess around embryonic stem cell research just got messier. Yesterday a U.S. district judge ruled that President Obama’s expansion of federal financing for the research, enacted last year when he lifted the Bush-era restrictions on creating new stem cell lines, was a violation of federal law.
Judge Lamberth ruled that the administration’s policy violated the clear language of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a law passed annually by Congress that bans federal financing for any “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death” [The New York Times].
Here’s the gist of what happened: The Obama Administration said that its policy fit with Dickey-Wicker because no federal dollars financed the destruction of embryos. Under the new rules the few stem cell lines approved by the Bush administration were OK, and so were new ones from embryos that had already been discarded because they weren’t needed for fertility treatments anymore—if the donors had given their consent to the embryos being used for research purposes. In this compromise position, taxpayer money wouldn’t be used to create new stem cell lines from embryos, but federally funded researchers could work with new stem cell lines created by privately financed scientists.