WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday blocked the Obama administration from funding human embryonic stem cell research, ruling that the support violates a federal law barring the use of taxpayer money for experiments that destroy human embryos.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits the National Institutes of Health from funding the research under the administration's new guidelines, citing a lower court's ruling that the researchers who had challenged the less-restrictive policy have the legal standing to pursue their lawsuit.
The decision was praised by opponents of the research.
"We are encouraged that the court has recognized the seriousness of the ethics and the funding of embryonic stem cell research," said David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council.
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The ruling stunned scientists and other advocates of the research, which has been hailed as one of the most important advances in medicine in decades because of its potential to cure many diseases.
"This is devastating, absolutely devastating," said Amy Comstock Rick, immediate past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a group of patient organizations that has been lobbying for more federal funding. "We were really looking forward to the next chapter when human embryonic stem cells could really be explored for their full potential."
Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, did not discuss how the administration intends to respond to the ruling, saying only that "we're reviewing the decision." The NIH had no immediate comment.
Lamberth cited legislation by Congress in 1996, called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.
"The language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed," he wrote. "This prohibition encompasses all 'research in which' an embryo is destroyed, not just the 'piece of research' in which the embryo is destroyed," as the Justice Department argued.