European Union Backs Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 19, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

EU Parliament Endorses Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 19, 2003

Brussels, Belgium ( — The parliament of the European Union on Wednesday voted to endorse funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research. The vote encourages EU trade and industry ministers to lift the ban on funding of the practice that involves killing human embryos just days after they are created.

Parliament supported the funding by a 298-241 vote and there were 14 abstentions. The final decision by the EU ministers is expected next month.

If they approve funding, it will allow money from the EU’s $23.83 billion research budget for the period 2003-2006 to go to the research.

Many EU member states, including Catholic countries like Italy, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Luxembourg, have laws opposing embryonic stem cell research or the funding of it. They mounted a concerted effort to oppose the funding.

But patients’ groups lobbied equally hard to lift the ban on funding saying that cures for diseases could result.

Ingo Friedrich, vice-President of the European Parliament, said before the vote that embryonic stem cell research was "ethically and morally unacceptable."

"It turns ideas of fundamental human values and rights to hollow words," Friedrich said.

German Christian Democrat deputy Peter Liese drafted a compromise to allow funding only of embryonic stem cells produced before June 2003 and stop funding of any new embryonic research. In Germany, only embryonic cells created before January 2002 are eligible for funding.

The parliament rejected his proposal.

British Labor deputy David Bowe, whose country has promoted such destructive research, applauded the vote.

"Europe can’t be run as if it were a single state with a religious consensus. There is no ethical consensus in Europe," he said.

Irish MEP Dana Scallon disagreed saying, "This will fund research using human life as though it were an instrument in a laboratory. We have only limited public money — it should not be diverted into a high risk area with no proven benefits."

Scallon said that, if the ministers agree to the funding, countries that oppose the use of embryonic cells will be forced to pay for it.

"It will impose on taxpayers from countries where this practice is illegal," Scallon explained.

The stem cells can be obtained from those left over from in-vitro fertilization, or from embryos created through cloning specifically to be destroyed for their stem cells.

Pro-life groups oppose embryonic stem cell research saying advances in science shouldn’t be made by destroying human life. They back the use of adult stem cells, which come from a larger number of sources and have been more successful in clinical trials.

The embryonic stem cells that might be funded can be no older than 14 days old.