Embryonic Stem Cell Research Divides EU

Members of the European Parliament will vote on a plan endorsing the controversial process, but they are still divided over its ethics

European lawmakers are set to endorse a new plan to finance research from 2007-13, but MEPs are still divided over the ethical issue of whether or not to continue funding research using embryonic stem cells.

MEPs will today (15 June) vote on the EU's future research activities of which a small part is research on stem cells from fertilised human eggs.

Polish centre-right MEP Jerzy Buzek, who wrote the report proposal, said he had tried to reach a compromise that would get majority support. But there is still a large group of MEPs who strongly oppose stem cell research.

"No Community assistance should be given to any research activity which requires human embryos to be destroyed or uses material taken from human embryos in a process which entails the destruction of the embryo concerned," read a statement from the parliaments women's committee.

"In my view, and that of many Christians, including the Christian church to which I belong, it is wholly appropriate that we continue to fund this research, just as we did under the [previous budget framework]," said centre-right UK MEP John Purvis at the parliament debate on Tuesday (13 June).

EU commissioner Janez Potocnik stated that "I know that this has been a matter of intense discussion amongst many of you and I should like to say at the outset that I have profound respect for each personal opinion."

He added that the European Commission is "convinced that, in view of the diversity of approaches existing in Europe, we can only propose a responsible, cautious and practical approach, evaluating and selecting this type of research on a case-by-case basis and excluding certain specific research areas."

Scientists say "that the right approach to addressing major health issues is through a combination of efforts from different sources and origins," Mr Potocnik said.

Mr Buzek, from the parliament research committee, said that "the institutions, organisations and researchers must be subject to strict licensing and control."

A special Eurobarometer on biotechnology, to be published soon, indicates that 55 percent of Europeans approve embryonic stem cell research under the current government regulations, while 17 percent would approve it under tighter conditions.

Nine percent say they do not to approve it under any condition while 15 percent say they don't know, according to the commission.

EU LAW ON EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH. Under current EU law on embryonic stem cell research, no human cloning is allowed and neither is the production of human embryos solely for the purpose of research.

EU funding can be given to projects only in countries where it is legal and after being approved on a case-by-case basis.

The practice is only allowed in three EU countries - Belgium, Sweden and the UK.

Eight EU-funded projects on embryonic stem cell research have taken place in the last seven years.

The stem cells are taken from human embryos and can be used to duplicate different kinds of tissue but have raised fundamental ethical concerns in particularly strongly Catholic EU countries.

A coalition of member states - including Germany, Malta, Slovakia, Poland, Italy and Austria � wants to keep EU tax money far away from embryonic stem cell research. The new research minister of Italy, though, has taken his country of the list resulting in protest from the coalition and at home.

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