Created by on 08/02/2011

In a major victory for the biomedical research community, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a summary judgment ruling that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could continue to fund human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned Lamberth’s preliminary injunction, which would have halted federal funding for hESC research on the grounds that it violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment. That amendment prohibits federal funding for research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed. The Appeals Court ruled that Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and deemed it reasonable for NIH to conclude that it does not prohibit funding for research in which hESCs will be used.

Judge Lamberth ruled that his court was bound by the Appeals Court’s decision. He wrote that the District Court, “following the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning and conclusions, must find that defendants reasonably interpreted the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to permit funding for human embryonic stem cell research because such research is not ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed . . . .’” Lamberth also ruled that the NIH’s conclusion that hESC research is not “research in which a human embryo or embryos are . . . subjected to risk of injury or death . . .” is based upon a permissible construction of the statute and entitled to deference.

The judge also rejected the claim that in executing President Obama’s Executive Order to promulgate new hESC research guidelines, NIH violated the Administrative Procedures Act by ignoring comments it received regarding whether NIH shouldfund hESC studies. Lamberth wrote that NIH’s decision to disregard these comments was reasonable, because “the fundamental policy question of whether to provide federal funds for embryonic stem cell research wasn’t a question for it to decide.”