UPDATE, 1:50p: Just read an unbelievable line in a puff piece on Collins in the September 6 issue of The New Yorker. I mean, seriously, how stupid do these people think we are?
Obama’s appointment of Collins seemed an inspired choice. The President had found not only a man who reflected his own view of the harmony between science and faith but an evangelical Christian who hoped that the government’s expansion of embryonic-stem-cell research might bring the culture war over science to a quiet end.
1:29p: This past Tuesday, August 31, the White House, Dept. of Justice, and National Institutes of Health hosted a conference call for liberal supporters and beneficiaries of federally funded embryonic stem cell research.
The call came in response to the August 23 ruling by Federal District Court for the District of Columbia Chief Judge Royce Lamberth that President Obama’s March 9, 2009, executive order authorizing federal spending to conduct research involving human embryos was illegal in light of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.
But escr advocates weren’t all who came on the call. Sure to be an embarrassment to the administration, a pro-life advocate – who even identified him/herself to the operator – also got on the call after being given coordinates by a clandestine pro-life friendly.
What our friend heard was only a thinly disguised appeal from the Executive Branch for public and political advocacy from its left-wing friends.
The WH representative leading the call said “public statements would be helpful,” encouraging pro-escr groups to submit comments to an email address at the WH’s Office of Public Engagement.
When asked whether lobbying Congress would help, the WH rep reiterated that while “technically” the WH doesn’t ask people to lobby, again it would be “helpful” if groups issued public statements in support of the funding, making sure to also send them to the above mentioned email address.
The primary escr proponent on the call was NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, pictured left.
And now we get to whether NIH is still breaking the law.
According to Science magazine, August 30, while Collins has ordered a shut down of 8 intramural escr research projects, or internal NIH projects, he is allowing extramural projects, or NIH funded escr projects at universities, etc., to continue, even if some of that money has not yet been spent. An August 30 NIH memo states exactly that:
Grant awards that were funded on or before August 23, 2010, are not affected by the preliminary injunction order, and award recipients may continue to expend the funds awarded to them prior to the date of the injunction.
Not so fast. Science reported uneasiness among escr pigs at the federal trough:
But some biomedical research lobbyists worry that that interpretation of the ruling may have been too optimistic, and a shutdown of all ongoing NIH-funded hESC research could be imminent.
They should worry, because there is a strong possibility Collins is giving illegal counsel. While the federal government can’t get money back that was spent before an injunction or change of law, money unspent after an injunction or change of law must be returned. Researchers must sign contracts stating they will not spend government funds on illegal research.
Science magazine indicated in an August 26 article that researchers aren’t necessarily taking Collins’ word for it:
Based on comments made by… Collins on Tuesday, some university administrators are assuming that those who have received an award notice this year can continue their research. But the agency has not yet issued a formal notice about the injunction in the NIH Guide….
According to sources in the biomedical research community, the funding methods complicate the decision: When NIH disburses a grant, it doesn’t hand the money over to the researcher’s institution. Instead, the Treasury has a special account that the institution draws down to pay an investigator’s research project expenses. Technically, the money is held by the Treasury Dept. and is paid out gradually over the year.
That means the DOJ could decide that the ban applies to all ongoing hESC research funded by NIH – making the crisis a full-blown disaster….
Or, from the perspective of the research subject, undoing a full-blown disaster.
On August 31 the DOJ appealed Lamberth’s decision, incorporating a concern about this unspent money. According to Nature.com yesterday:
Scientists who have received – but not yet spent – government funds for human embryonic stem cell research should be shielded from losing those funds, DOJ lawyers argue as part of an appeal filed with the judge who has frozen government funding for the research….
So far, the DOJ has interpreted the August 23 injunction… not to apply to the 199 grantees who have already received money from NIH for escr this year. They are currently free to keep spending what money they have received for their projects – a combined $131 million, NIH director Francis Collins announced last week….
But in a phrase that seems to acknowledge that their interpretation is open to question, they state that, should the judge disagree, and declare that the injunction extends to already-awarded funds, he should nonetheless shield the grantees who already have the money in hand. Not an argument to induce sound sleep at night.
Poor babies, and by that I don’t mean the worried escr grantees.
[Top photo via BioEdge.org]