During his inaugural address, President Obama pledged to "restore science to its rightful place." The comment was interpreted at the time as a not-so-subtle jab at his predecessor's policy approach to the issue of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), and in March 2009 Mr. Obama confirmed this interpretation with an executive order overturning restrictions on federally-funded ESCR put in place by former-President Bush. But not everyone agrees with the President's vision of science's "rightful place," particularly when his pursuit of this vision involves undermining the rule of law and disregarding the sanctity of human life. Not surprisingly, therefore, the President's executive order was challenged in court, and this week, opponents of ESCR have a reason to celebrate. On August 23, 2010, federal Judge Royce Lamberth issued a temporary injunction against the President's order after concluding that it violates the plain language of the current federal law banning taxpayer funding of the destruction of human embryos for research purposes.
In predictable hyperbolic fashion, critics of judge Lamberth's decision enjoining President Obama's executive order on ESCR are declaring that "the sky is falling." According to Sean Tipton at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the injunction "blocks important research on how to unlock the enormous potential of human embryonic stem cells," and "will be incredibly disruptive and once again drive the best scientific minds into work less likely to yield treatments for conditions from diabetes to spinal cord injury."
Mr. Tipton ignores that fact that Mr. Obama's executive order flies in the face of a federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which has been in place since 1996 and which prohibits federal funding of research involving the creation or destruction of human embryos. This law went into effect because a majority of members of Congress rejected the "ends justifies the means" approach advocated by Mr. Tipton and others like him – people who are willing to throw off any ethical restraints in pursuit of so-called scientific endeavor. A proponent of the utilitarian "science without limits" approach to scientific investigation, the newly minted President tried to do an end run around the unambiguous law by redefining the word "research" to mean something other than its plain meaning and then authorizing this "research" by an executive order.
The Obama administration, of course, wasted no time in announcing its plans to appeal the ruling.