Italy Official’s Actions May Prompt EU to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 31, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Italy Official’s Actions May Prompt EU to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 31, 2006

Rome, Italy ( — Italy’s new government has already come under fire after an official said he wants to promote the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug. Now another top minister is pushing embryonic stem cell research and the move is causing a political row as the Catholic Church has condemned his actions.

Research Minister Fabio Mussi said on Tuesday that he had withdrawn Italy’s signature from an ethics document signed by the Vatican and European nations opposed to spending taxpayer funds through the European Union for embryonic stem cell research.

The government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had signed the document and Italy’s participation in a coalition of nation’s opposed to the destructive research helped stall funding for it.

Now, the coalition of nations, including Germany, Malta, Slovakia, Poland and Austria, may have a difficult time keeping EU tax dollars from paying for the unproven research.

Debates are going on now about the EU’s Framework Programme 7 (FP7) budget, covering 2007-2013.

The FP6 guidelines from the last budget gave preferential treatment to adult stem cell research but still funded embryonic stem cell studies as long as they were not conducted in nations with bans on such funding. Under FP6, eight embryonic stem cell research and over 100 adult stem cell research projects received financial support

Mussi’s actions prompted some opposition lawmakers in the Italian parliament to call for a vote of no confidence against Mussi. They also want to know if his actions represent the view of newly-elected Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Maurizio Gasparri, an opposition leader, told Reuters the government officials in Prodi’s government are acting like "stray dogs" and taking public policy matters in their own hands.

During questioning in the Italian parliament, Deputy Prime Minister, Francesco Rutelli said Mussi’s actions won’t change any regulations on stem cell research funding at the EU. He also said Prodi’s government was forming policy in a collective fashion.

"[O]n these ethically important, delicate and sensitive subjects, there will be a collective orientation to express the position of the majority and the government," he said.

But Family Minister Rosy Bindi told AGi he wasn’t informed of the decision.

"Regarding the decision of Minister Mussi to withdraw Italy’s signature of the ethic declaration on stem cell research, I have reasons to doubt it was a collective decision," he said.

The Catholic Church also condemned Mussi and Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops, said it was "shocking" that Mussi took Italy’s name off the document without consulting parliament and top government officials.

Rocco Buttiglione, a former minister in the Berlusconi government, told Reuters that Mussi had the obligation, as well, to uphold Italian law. Italian voters rejected a ballot measure to weaken prohibitions on human embryo research last June.

Last week, Italy’s new health minister, Livia Turco, came under fire for saying the abortion drug should be sold there.