Congress last week was given the needed breathing room to pass a legislative solution that allows for federal financing of embryonic stem-cell research.
They need to act sooner rather than later.
Thanks to a federal appeals court ruling last week, federal financing of the research can continue while the court considers a judge's earlier order to ban the government from underwriting that type of work.
The court ruling means Congress has time to act and render the original ban meaningless, and it also keeps stem-cell lines and research alive.
The New York Times reported last week that the ruling could save research mice from being euthanized, cells in petri dishes from starving and scores of scientists from a suspension of paychecks, according to arguments the Obama administration made in the case. It also could allow the National Institutes of Health to provide $78 million to 44 scientists whose research the agency had previously agreed to finance, The Times reported.
While we have previously questioned the legal footing for the August temporary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, we ultimately believe it is up to Congress to codify and build upon President Obama's executive order of last year that removed barriers to ethical stem-cell research.
Congress ought to revive Rep. Diana DeGette's well-vetted stem-cell research bill, which twice has passed Congress but was vetoed both times by President George W. Bush.
DeGette was confident when she met with us last week that her bill would be revived, not only because it's good policy but because it's good politics for Democrats in tough races. Stem-cell research polls high with voters who have hopes that it will someday lead to cures for Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, strokes, burns, heart disease and diabetes.
The heart of the earlier ban centers on the meaning of the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment, an appropriations rule that has been attached to federal spending bills consistently since 1996. It forbids federal funding for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed."
As we said in an earlier editorial, subsequent administrations have negotiated paths around this prohibition by refusing to fund work that results in the destruction of an embryo, but allowing federal funding of research on the cell lines developed from the embryos. Judge Lamberth rejected that reasoning. It's a thorny but important parsing because federal support for this time-consuming and expensive research is crucial to its continuation.
DeGette's Stem Cell Research Advancement Act, co-sponsored with Republican Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware, would allow couples who have gone through in-vitro fertilization therapy to donate unused embryos slated for destruction. The measure bans the creation of embryos specifically intended for research, and it bans human cloning.
Congress, given this extra breathing room, must now pass legislation to set ethical guardrails and reasonable regulations for this promising research.