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European Parliament Bans Stem Cell Research

Apr 10, 2003
Reuters Health

Medical research groups poured scorn on the European Parliament on Thursday for amending a directive on organ donation so that it would also ban research into embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning.

Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society, said: "We are very disappointed that the European Parliament has backed this cynical manipulation of the legislative process by a small minority."

He said the original intention of the directive was to protect the health of people who receive donated tissue or cells. "But a small group of zealots wants to widen its scope dogmatically to impose their views on the people of the European Union."

During its first reading of the proposed directive on standards of quality and safety of human tissues, the parliament adopted amendments saying member states should prohibit research on human cloning for reproductive purposes and research to create human embryos for research.

The European parliamentarians also said the procurement of embryonic tissue after abortion would require special rules.

The Wellcome Trust, a research charity that currently funds more than 5.5 million pounds in grants on embryo stem cell research, added its voice of complaint.

"It is particularly disappointing that the European Parliament seems intent on trying to force legislation of this kind, on an ethical issue which is better dealt with at a national level," said Robert Terry, senior policy advisor at the charity.

"We think the process for adding amendments to legislation in this way is ill considered and could have far-reaching negative impacts on essential medical research and should be resisted."

The charity Diabetes UK also condemned the vote. Dr. Moira Murphy, director of research, said: "Stem cell research using embryonic cells could one day provide a cure.

"The people of Britain have said they are in favour of this research. Our doctors should be allowed to try and put an end to the daily injections and the threat of blindness, heart disease and amputations which are part of the life of people with diabetes."

The amended text now goes to the council of European health ministers, who can approve or modify the amendments.

"We hope that European Union health ministers will reject these amendments when they are presented with the Directive in June, and preserve the present established arrangement that individual Member States should be allowed to make up their own minds about research on human embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning," Lord May said.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd