Remove Research Barrier

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

An amendment barring federal funding for research involving the destruction of human embryos became law in 1996. Two years later, James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin isolated human embryonic stem cells.

The law came before the science, and the two have been in conflict ever since. A federal judge's ruling should force Congress to resolve the conflict, allowing promising research in the fields of tissue regeneration and disease treatment to proceed.

Embryos unavoidably are destroyed when stem cells are extracted from them. The Clinton administration sidestepped this fact in 1999, issuing a legal opinion that said the federal government could pay for embryonic stem cell research as long as taxpayer money did not finance the initial destruction of embryos.

The Bush administration accepted this reasoning, allowing federally funded research on a narrow set of existing stem cell lines. President Obama issued an executive order last year lifting Bush's limits on research, but the 1996 amendment prohibiting the use of public funds to destroy human embryos has been renewed by Congress every year.

On Monday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that all three administrations had made an impermissible end run around the law. The Justice Department plans to appeal, but Judge Royce Lamberth's reasoning seems solid: If it's not legal to use federal funds to destroy human embryos, it also must be illegal to use federal funds to support research that flows from such destruction. If the tree is poisonous, so too is its fruit.

Lamberth's ruling, if it stands, would force the federal government to cancel by the end of next month $54 million in funding for 22 stem cell research projects. …