Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

On August 23rd, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined an executive order that President Obama signed in March of 2009.  Obama’s executive order reversed the restrictions on government funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) put in place by former President George W. Bush in 2001.  Then, on September 9th, a federal appeals court allowed the funding to proceed while it considers the August 23rd ruling.   In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Arlen Specter has introduced a bill that would overturn the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which forbids the federal government from funding research that destroys human embryos.

Since Obama’s 2009 executive order, the National Institutes of Health adopted new guidelines to approve federal grants for ESCR.  For more than a year now, taxpayer dollars have funded research to manufacture human embryos with the intention of using these microscopic humans in scientific research that requires their destruction.

In August of 2009, Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian Medical Association, and other Pro-Life leaders filed the lawsuit against Obama’s executive order, claiming that the order violated an already existing federal law.  The lawsuit cites an amendment to the federal appropriations bill known as Dickey-Wicker, which is an amendment added to every federal budget since 1997.  The Dickey-Wicker amendment clearly forbids the federal funding of any scientific research in which embryos are “destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”

Regrettably, since 2001, the debate over ESCR has not focused on the morality of the research or the personhood of the embryos; rather, the political battles have been about public funding and the effectiveness of the research.  While these are both very important topics, the protection or destruction of innocent human life is lost in the noise. 

Although the recent injunction against Obama’s executive order and NIH guidelines are noteworthy, the personhood of our embryonic brethren is being overlooked—as was the personhood of the unborn child in the Roe v. Wade court proceedings back in 1973.  The debate should be about whether the U.S. policies should allow unfettered manufacturing and destruction of human life; only then do the funding and restriction issues become relevant.  If the first question is not properly weighed and addressed, human life is rendered a commodity to be bought and sold.