ETHICS, FP7: Strict ethical code to govern forthcoming framework programme
EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has noted that the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) will be subject to the same strict ethical considerations as its predecessor..
In light of Mr Potočnik’s statement, the Commission has released a general overview of the ethical framework governing EU-funded research and how this is being carried over into its FP7 proposal. “The European Commission proposes to continue the current strict ethical framework within the future research programme,” the guide explains.
Under FP7, two specific sections deal with ethical matters: Recital 25 and Article 6 state that EU-funded research should “respect fundamental ethical principles”. This includes those contained in the Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Commission will also take into account the independent opinions of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies.
In FP6, these basic principles have been elaborated into a detailed ethical code that is used to evaluate all European research – including the life sciences – right from the proposal stage. In addition, the Union finances research that aims to build understanding of the ethical frames of reference of European citizens and to evaluate the socio-economic impact of cutting-edge EU research.
The guiding principles of bioethics
The Commission’s note outlines the ethical framework guiding stem cell research at the EU level, an area subject to fierce public debate. Stem cells are known as the body’s ‘master cells’ because of their ability to develop into various specialised cells.
Adult stem cells are not in the least controversial and the Commission gives them priority wherever possible. However, the adult variety is not as flexible and versatile as embryonic stem cells, which are the raw material used to build the 200 different types of tissue in our bodies.
Biologists believe that research in the field, which has come to be known as ‘regenerative medicine’, holds the promise of curing many degenerative and hereditary diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes. Despite their therapeutic potential, critics argue that the use of human embryos may compromise the sanctity of life.
Member States have widely differing views on the subject (see Commission’s guide) and “EU research programmes never fund in a Member State, under any circumstances, anything that is forbidden [there]”. FP6 also prohibits the funding of human reproductive cloning or the creation of human embryos for research purposes (often referred to as therapeutic cloning).
FP6 only allows EU funding of projects involving human embryonic stem cells derived from supernumerary embryos, i.e. embryos left over from in vitro fertilisation, which are examined by independent ethical experts on a case-by-case basis.
Source: EU sources
How does the European Commission deal with ethical issues within its Framework Programme for Research and Development?
More information on bioethics
Background on stem cell research