Stem cell lawsuit poses wide impact for conscience rights

By Michelle Bauman

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Samuel Casey, general counsel for Law of Life Project.

An attorney says a lawsuit challenging federal funding of embryonic stem cell research could make a strong statement about the Obama administration's disregard for American conscience rights.

“It’s a very important case,” said Samuel B. Casey, general counsel for Jubilee Campaign's Law of Life Project.

Casey told EWTN News on April 23 that the lawsuit is important in showing that the Constitution prohibits the president and administration from acting against the consciences of the people, as expressed in Congressionally-passed laws.

“It is one thing for the government to fund research,” he said. “It is another for the government to fund research that offends the conscience of more than 50 percent of the country.”

A panel of three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments on April 23 in a case involving experimentation on human embryonic stem cells.

The lawsuit – filed on behalf of two adult stem cell researchers – challenges the 2009 regulatory guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health, which allow federal funding of research on newly-created embryonic stem cell lines.

The researchers argue that such funding violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an annual provision added to legislation to prevent federal funding of research in which human embryos are “destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”  

The lawsuit has been caught up in debates over technicalities and is finally moving forward with oral arguments.

A judge initially issued a temporary injunction in August 2010 to suspend funding while the policy’s legality was being challenged. However, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel reversed the injunction a year later.

Casey said that the Obama administration has been “clever” in carrying out policies that “clearly and intentionally” violate the law. 

He explained that in issuing his 2009 executive order, President Obama seemed to be appealing to science, allowing for any stem cell research that was ethical, scientifically viable and consistent with law.

In doing so, he said, the president allowed the National Institutes of Health to interpret the law to mean that a prohibition on funding that risks the “injury or death” of human embryos does not apply to research on the embryonic stem cells that are harvested from such embryos.

But the Dickey-Wicker amendment “should never have been interpreted that way,” Casey said.

He explained that the initial purpose of writing the amendment was to prevent the administration from experimenting on excess embryos from fertility clinics.

“Congress could not have been clearer” in explaining the intent of the amendment, he said.

According to Casey, the lawsuit is important because it has the potential to give hope to those who “have given up” fighting because they believe the administration is too powerful to be stopped.

“It’s a difficult time for people to have a lot of faith in the government,” he acknowledged.

Casey argued that the Obama administration has repeatedly violated the moral consciences of America, as laid out in legislation passed by Congressional majorities.

He pointed to Obama’s executive order promising not to fund abortions in the health care reform law, as well as recent evidence that the law does in fact pay for abortions.

Obama has also instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“His administration doesn’t pay attention to the law,” said Casey.

“People think there is no way to stop the Obama administration from doing what it’s doing,” he explained. “But in fact, there is. That is why this case merits much greater national attention.”

On the embryonic stem cell case, Casey said that the recent oral arguments went well.

“It looked to me like the judges agreed with us,” he said, noting that they had brought up the original intent of the Dickey-Wicker amendment.

Now, both sides will wait for the court to give its opinion, which could take place late this summer, he explained. It is likely that the loser of the case will petition the Supreme Court.

If judicial efforts fail, he added, Congress could also pass a law slightly altering the language of the Dickey-Wicker amendment to clarify that it prohibits the funding attempted by the current administration.

Casey said that he has been “very hopeful” about the case from the very beginning. “I think it’s crystal clear,” he said. “All we need is a court following the law.”

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