The Justice Department today asked a federal judge in Washington to stay his ruling this month that blocks the government from funding research that involves human embryonic stem cells.
Last week, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction that DOJ attorneys said today threatens ongoing research projects and potentially negates years of scientific progress toward treatment of certain illnesses.
President Barack Obama in March 2009 removed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research that were put in place by President George W. Bush.
Justice lawyers today filed an emergency motion asking Lamberth to stay his ruling while the government takes the dispute to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Thomas Hungar, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs—Drs. James Sherley and Theresa Deisher—was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon.
The government, Lamberth said, cannot take any action from pursuing National Institutes of Health guidelines that cover human embryonic stem cell research. DOJ lawyers in today’s brief said the guidelines, published last year, cover research “that has been ongoing for years, including under the policies of the prior Administration."
“The issuance of a stay is necessary to prevent the irreparable harm that is certain to occur if, during the pendency of its appeal, NIH is forced to cease all activities pertaining to [human embryonic stem cell] research that is subject to government funding,” the DOJ said in a motion signed by Federal Programs Branch trial attorney Kyle Freeny. (The government's motion is here.)
Lawyers for Sherley and Deisher, doctors who work with adult stem cells and receive NIH funding, argue the NIH guidelines increase the competition for NIH funding and limit the available funds for adult stem cell research.
The DOJ motion said a “stay should not be denied for the benefit of two scientists whose only alleged harm is increased competition from other meritorious research projects that may ultimately save lives.”
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins wrote a declaration that DOJ included with today's motion. Collins said, among other things, that Lamberth's order prevents NIH from providing $54 million in funds to 24 human embryonic research projects that are underway and expected to receive funds by the end of September.
Lamberth could rule this week. He set a Sept. 3 deadline for the plaintiffs to file an opposition to the government’s request to stay the preliminary injunction.