Genetics, legislation: long-awaited embryo
research guidelines revealed
The European Commission
has unveiled its long-awaited proposals for an ethical framework
to regulate the use of human embryos in EU-funded research.
The Commission’s new proposed guidelines
for EU-backed human embryonic stem cell research outlines
the conditions under which such research – once it resumes
at the end of 2003 – will be funded at the European
level under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
“By setting strict ethical rules for such funding, the
EU contributes, in a responsible way, to advancing this science
for the benefit of patients across the world, while at the
same time ensuring that it takes place within a clear ethical
framework,” European Research Commissioner Philippe
Busquin said at the launch of the proposal on 9 July.
As our bodies’ master cells, stem cells are the raw
material from which organs develop. Biologists believe that
research in the field holds the promise of curing degenerative
diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s.
Despite their therapeutic potential, research using stem cells
derived from early human embryos has sparked a public debate
over the ethics of such lines of investigation.
A delicate balance
The Commission stresses that the guidelines aim to strike
a balance between scientific freedom, as enshrined in the
European charter of fundamental rights, and ethical concerns.
“[The] proposal acknowledges that this issue is controversial,
with many open questions, but also recognises the potential
it offers for curing diseases,” a Commission statement
The EU executive also underscores that these guidelines would
only apply at Union level and not at national level. “The
Commission proposal does not aim to set universal ethical
principles … Every Member State must decide for itself
on this issue,” the statement emphasised.
Although such research has been funded under previous Framework
Programmes, the question of EU funding was left open in the
FP6 decision-making process.
The Commission agreed temporarily not to fund research projects
using human embryos and embryonic stem cells, with the exception
of banked cells in culture. The Council of Ministers, the
European Parliament and the Commission agreed to decide on
this issue in the course of 2003.
The Commission’s recommendations will now go to the
European Parliament and Council for their consideration.
Source: EU and external sources