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Page last update: 25/12/2008

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 noted. 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
More Information:
Commission press release

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top