By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
President Barack Obama may have lifted the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but the U.S. appropriations bill he signed two days later contained an amendment that prohibits “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.”
Known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, it was buried on page 280 of the massive omnibus bill the president signed into law on March 11. This amendment has been part of the annual appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) every fiscal year since 1996.
The amendment says, in part: “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.”
It not only prohibits the government from providing tax dollars to research that harms or kills human embryonic life, it also mandates that the government use an all-inclusive definition of “human embryo” that encompasses any nascent human life from the moment that life comes into being, even if created in a laboratory through cloning, in vitro fertilization or any other means.
“For the purposes of this section,” says the law, “the term ‘human embryo or embryos’ includes any organism … that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes or human diploid cells.”
This severely limits the president’s new order, which allows the HHS to “support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law.”
Thanks to the Dickey-Wicker language in Section 509 of the omnibus bill, the “extent permitted by law” will continue to forbid federal funding of research that even puts embryos at risk.
A White House official told CNSNews.com that President Obama was aware the Dickey-Wicker amendment was in the omnibus bill, but signed it anyway, citing a distinction between embryonic stem cell research and the creation or destruction of embryos.
Legislators think otherwise and believe the amendment will curtail research and are already talking about repealing it.
Rep. Mike Castle (R.-Del.), stated this week that Dickey-Wicker should be revisited.
“Certainly, the Dickey-Wicker amendment . . . is something we need to look at,” Castle told Congressional Quarterly Today on Monday. “That was passed in 1996, before we realized the full potential of embryonic stem cell research. Some researchers are telling us now that that needs to be reversed.”
Douglas Johnson, spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee, said in a press release Monday that President Obama’s executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for embryo-destroying stem cell research “set the stage” for an effort to repeal Dickey-Wicker.
“This sets the stage for an attack on the Dickey-Wicker law, which since 1995 has been a provision of the annual appropriations bills for federal health programs,” said Johnson. “Any member of Congress who votes for legislation to repeal this law is voting to allow federal funding of human embryo farms, created through the use of human cloning.”
That this may be a goal of the new administration was evidenced in the president’s remarks when he reversed the ban. “ . . . (W)e will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction,” he said.
However, he said nothing about the use of cloning for research purposes, something that is already in the works.
A bill sponsored in the last Congress by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) specifically permits federal funding of research using human embryos that are created by cloning and kept alive for no more than 14 days so that their stem cells can be extracted.
Federal funding of this type of research is prohibited by Dickey-Wicker, which will remain the law of the land through Sept. 30 which is the end of this fiscal year.
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