U.S. asks appeals court to stay stem cell funding ban

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 8, 2010 4:29pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday asked an appeals court for an emergency stay that would lift the ban on federal funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth last month ruled that the research violated U.S. law because it involved destroying human embryos, a setback for President Barack Obama who had tried to expand research in hopes it would lead to new cures of diseases.

On Tuesday, Lamberth refused to put his ruling on hold while the administration appealed. The Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to intervene and lift the injunction pending the appeal.

The administration said in its emergency request that Lamberth's ruling was at odds with the intent of Congress when it wrote the law limiting federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research and that it would undercut ongoing medical research.

"Disruption of ongoing research will result in irreparable setbacks and, in many cases, may destroy a project altogether," the administration told the appeals court.

Obama allowed more federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research as one of his first acts after taking office in 2009, but doctors opposed to such research challenged the guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology, argued it violated U.S. law because human embryos were destroyed and it created unfair competition for limited money for their own work on adult stem cells.

The Justice Department told the appeals court that Congress has been aware for years that the NIH-funded research involves the use of stem cell lines derived from embryos and did not seek to alter the restrictions.

"The district court set aside this longstanding agency interpretation that had been repeatedly ratified by Congress, and erased the distinction between, on the one hand, funding the derivation of stem cell lines and, on the other hand, funding research using stem cell lines already derived from human embryos," the Obama administration said.

Sherley and Deisher have countered that such research was in violation of the law. Opponents of human embryonic stem cell research say it is wrong to destroy human embryos, even days-old embryos to be discarded from fertility clinics.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Eric Beech)

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