European Researchers Worry EU Will Ban Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 30, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

European Researchers Worry EU Will Ban Embryonic Stem Cell Research

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 30, 2003

Madrid, Spain ( — The incoming director of a group of European researchers says his group is concerned the European Union will ban embryonic stem cell research. Dr. Arne Sunde, incoming chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, says stopping such research would impede finding cures for numerous diseases.

However, other leading scientists say adult stem cell research is not only more ethical but more effective.

The embryonic stem cell research debate has become caught up in a discussion in the EU Parliament regarding safety standards for tissue donation, testing and distribution.

In April, the European Parliament’s environment and public health committee, and subsequently European members of parliament, amended the proposed regulations to include a ban on research designed to create human embryos solely for research purposes or to provide stem cells, including stem cells produced by cloning.

On June 2, the Employment, Social Policy and Health Council decided against a ban and said member countries should make their own policies.

However, Sunde said he expects a second attempt to pass a ban in the parliament.

Sunde admitted that adult stem cell research could become the main type of stem cell research used around the world. However, he added there is a need to use embryonic stem cells in research in the meantime and "most scientists working with stem cells, whether embryonic or adult, agree that in order to find clinically viable treatments research must continue on both types."

That’s not the case says David C. Hess M.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia. Hess believes adult stem cell research is by far more useful.

"The major advantages of bone marrow derived stem cells are: they are autologous (except for umbilical cord stem cells) and will not be rejected and they can be easily isolated from bone marrow aspirates," Hess explained.

While patients who have been treated with adult stem cell injections have either recovered or had the degree of the effects of their disease reduced, patients who have been treated with embryonic stem cells have not been cured. In some cases, such patients’ situations have been made worse.

Sharon Quick, a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, agreed with Hess.

"Cloning a human embryo, regardless of the intended purpose, and stem cell research using embryonic stem cells both amount to research and experimentation on a human without the consent of the person," Quick said. "That is not only unethical, it is illegal."

In Britain, scientists can apply for permits to create human embryos through cloning and kill them to extract their stem cells for use in research.