Stem cell funding gets reprieve

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An appeals court ruled Thursday that the federal government can resume funding human embryonic stem cell research while the court reviews a judge’s order that had temporarily prohibited such funding.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted a request from the Justice Department to lift a temporary injunction issued Aug. 23 blocking the funding on the grounds that it violated a law barring funding any research that involves the destruction of human embryos.

While the move was praised by advocates for the research, the appeals court made it clear it was not making a final decision about the case, which means the reprieve could be short-lived and the fate of the funding could continue to be whiplashed by seesawing court rulings.

“The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion,” the appeals court wrote in its decision.

Opponents of stem cell funding have until Sept. 14 to file a response, and the government must submit its response by Sept. 20.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, ruling in a lawsuit filed by two researchers working on alternatives to the cells, said the funding violated a federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits federal tax money from being used for research that involves the destruction of human embryos. The ruling stunned scientists, patient advocates and other supporters of the research by throwing millions of dollars in federal funding into question.

Lamberth on Tuesday rejected a request to lift the stay pending an appeal. But the Obama administration appealed that decision to the higher court.

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