The federal judge who imposed a ban on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research rejected the Obama Administration's request that he lift the prohibition as the winds its way through the appeals court process.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth was unmoved by the administration's urgent warning that the ban would seriously damage efforts by U.S. scientists to find cures for diseases for which such cells hold great promise.
As Sciencemag.org reported:
"Defendants are incorrect about much of their 'parade of horribles' that will supposedly result from this Court's preliminary injunction," Lamberth wrote. He's referring to concerns expressed by DOJ that stopping the research is profoundly disruptive to labs and will delay progress in developing new treatments for a variety of diseases. The National Institutes of Health halted all research within its walls last week, although already funded work outside NIH can continue, for now.
The order, while not a surprise considering how forceful the judge's opinion was, was another setback for the Obama Administration and victory for the opponents of such research.
The administration had hoped Lamberth might be persuaded to at least allow U.S. financing of human embryonic stem cell research to continue while federal appeals court judges heard the case.
Among their arguments was one meant to have special resonance in a time of high unemployment; the National Institutes of Health director, Francis Collins, had argued that the ban could lead to job losses among scientists.
Because human embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of embryos, the technique has been opposed by abortion foes who view it as little different than abortion.
Lamberth's rejection of the Obama Administration request could therefore be viewed as another victory for abortion opponents.
The Obama Administration's now has to stake its hopes on appellate judges overturning Lamberth in a case that is likely to go to the Supreme Court because the stakes are seen as so high.
Meanwhile, Congress could still come up with new legislation to make federal funding for such research clearly legal. There is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for such research.
But with congressional elections now less than two months away and the expectation that, at a minimum, Republicans will capture the House, the pathway is unclear to a legislative fix that would satisfy supporters of federal funding.