DC District Court Orders a Halt to Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research
By Jessica Palmer – Edited by Ryan Ward
Sherley v. Sebelius, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86441 (D.D.C. August 23, 2010)
On August 23, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s July 2009 guidelines for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. Judge Royce Lamberth held that “because the Guidelines allow federal funding of ESC [Embryonic Stem Cell] research, which involves the destruction of embryos,” federal funding for hESC research “clearly violate[s]” the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.
The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an appropriations bill rider originally passed in 1996 and renewed each appropriations cycle thereafter, prohibits the use of appropriated funds for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.” P.L. 111-8 § 509 (2009). Judge Lamberth rejected the government’s argument that, under Dickey-Wicker, NIH could support research on hESCs, as long as federal funding did not support the initial derivation of the stem cell lines from human embryos. Judge Lamberth reasoned that the NIH’s interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment did not deserve Chevron deference because the statute is unambiguous: “the language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed. This prohibition encompasses all ‘research in which’ an embryo is destroyed, not just the ‘piece of research’ in which the embryo is destroyed.”
Professor Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School criticized the order at Concurring Opinions, arguing that “it is hard to find that the statute is ‘unambiguous’ in Chevron terms in the way Lamberth says.” Professor Russell Korobkin of UCLA, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, found the grant of a preliminary injunction “troubling” because “the balance of hardships tilts strongly in the direction of hESC researchers and the patients who hope their work will lead to cures, not in the direction of the plaintiffs who might see their chances of winning a grant reduced.” Both Cohen and Korobkin predicted that the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will reverse the district court’s grant of an injunction. (more…)