WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday refused to order the Obama administration to stop funding embryonic stem cell research, despite complaints the work relies on destroyed human embryos.
The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court decision throwing out a lawsuit that challenged federal funding for the research, which is used in pursuit of cures to deadly diseases.
Opponents claimed the National Institutes of Health was violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.
But a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously agreed with a lower court judge’s dismissal of the case. This is the second time the appeals court has said that the challenged federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was permissible.
‘‘Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived ESCs — which are not themselves embryos — because no ‘human embryo or embryos are destroyed’ in such projects,’’ Chief Judge David B. Sentelle said in the ruling, adding that the plaintiffs made the same argument the last the time the court reviewed the issue. ‘‘Therefore, unless they have established some ‘extraordinary circumstance,’ the law of the case is established and we will not revisit the issue.’’
Researchers hope one day to use stem cells in ways that cure spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and other ailments. Opponents of the research object because the cells were obtained from destroyed human embryos.
Though current research is using cells culled long ago, opponents say they also fear research success would spur new embryo destruction. Proponents say the research cells come mostly from extra embryos that fertility clinics would have discarded.
The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by two scientists who argued that Obama’s expansion jeopardized their ability to win government funding for research using adult stem cells — ones that have already matured to create specific types of tissues — because it will mean extra competition.