(CNSNews.com) – A White House official told CNSNews.com that in keeping with language included in the spending bill that President Obama signed into law Wednesday, federal funding cannot go to research that creates or destroys human embryos, but it can go to research that uses stem cells taken from embryos that are destroyed without federal funds.
On Monday, Obama signed an executive order lifting a previous executive order—signed by President Bush in 2001—that limited federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to stem-cell lines that had been created from embryos destroyed before that time. Bush’s aim was to ensure that no further human embryos were destroyed for federal research purposes.
On Wednesday, just two days after lifting Bush’s executive order, Obama signed a 465-page omnibus appropriations bill that included language (at page 280 of the bill) specifically prohibiting federal funding of research that creates or destroys an embryo or subjects an embryo to risk of injury or death.
The language—known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment—has been included in the Department of Health and Human Services appropriations every fiscal year since 1996.
A White House official told CNSNews.com that President Obama was aware that the Dickey-Wicker amendment was in the omnibus bill and that under the executive order signed Monday the National Institutes of Health should comply with the restrictions mandated by the Dickey-Wicker amendment.
“They should develop guidelines to pursue stem cell research in compliance with federal law, meaning Dickey-Wicker,” the White House official said.
“Dickey-Wicker does not speak to stem cell research,” the White House official said. “It speaks to the creation and destruction of embryos. It was drafted before stem cell research even existed. So what the executive order says is that NIH will develop guidelines for stem cell research proceedings [for] folks who use federal money for stem cell research.”
“You still can’t create or destroy an embryo with federal funding,” the White House official said.
“These lines come from, generally come from, embryos that are left over at fertilization labs and IVF clinics, and that can be created privately,” said the White House official.
“All this executive order does is say that federal funds can be used for research on those lines. It doesn’t speak to creating new lines, creating embryos or destroying embryos, anything like that,” said the official.
The White House official also said that President Obama has not taken a position on Dickey-Wicker and did not address it in his remarks on Monday when he signed the executive order.
“We have not discussed repealing Dickey-Wicker or anything like that,” the official said. “As long as it is law, federal funding cannot be used for the creation or destruction of embryos.”
The executive order Obama signed says, “The Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Director of the NIH, may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law.”
The Dickey-Wicker law specifically states:
SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in
this Act may be used for
(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos
for research purposes; OR
(2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under 45 CFR 46.204(b) and section 498(b) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 289g(b)).
(b) For purposes of this section, the term "human embryo or embryos" includes any organism, not protected as a human subject under 45 CFR 46 as of the date of the enactment of this Act, that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes or human diploid cells.
Opponents of embryonic stem cell research believe the language of the law would clearly prohibit any federal funding because research means harm to the embryo, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.
“It does not merely say you can’t use federal funds to kill an embryo, it’s much broader than that,” Johnson told CNSNews.com. “It says the federal government can’t fund research in which embryos are harmed. We should interpret that to mean the federal government can’t fund any research project if that project involves or requires harm to human embryos.”
“It is not consistent with the Dickey amendment for NIH to say, ‘OK, we’re going to approve this study, which involves taking 100 embryos out of the freezer in some in vitro lab and killing them and taking their stem cells, and using their stem cells in the federally funded study, and by the way, we’re going to pay for all of that, and we approve it in advance. The only part we’re not going to pay for is the part where you kill the embryo,’” Johnson continued. “That’s not what the Dickey amendment says.”
This would be a moot point if Congress scraps the amendment, which Johnson said he anticipates could happen.
This week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said House leaders might attempt to pass a stem cell research bill before the April 4 recess.
“We believe this research provides real hope for some of mankind’s most difficult diseases and afflictions and challenges. We think the research is promising,” Hoyer said on the House floor. “On the other hand, we want to make sure that it does, in fact, do what we say we want to do. As you know, when we passed legislation like that before, we made it very clear that human cloning was not something that the Congress supported and that we were specifically prohibiting that.”
Also, this week, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) told the New York Times, “Dickey-Wicker is 13 years old now, and I think we need to review these policies. … I’ve already talked to several pro-life Democrats about Dickey-Wicker, and they seemed open to the concept of reversing the policy if we could show that it was necessary to foster the research.”
But repealing the law is not an immediate priority, DeGette spokesman Kris Eisenla said Friday. The first priority, he said, would be to codify Obama’s executive order into law.
“We’ve heard many researchers say it impedes research,” Eisenala told CNSNews.com. “But we must review: a) Does it impede research? and b) Should we overturn it? We would have legislative hearings, discussions and reach out to the other side of the aisle.”
Doing away with the amendment could be more efficient for scientific research, said Michael Werner, a consultant with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which has lobbied for funding to do stem cell research.
“Dickey-Wicker does not stand in the way of the NIH funding the use of embryonic stem cell research, but it does stand in the way of using federal funds to derive the cells from the embryos,” Werner told CNSNews.com. “If it were done away with, it would free up researchers more instead of having one set of dollars to derive the cells and one set of dollars for research.”