by Steven Ertelt
June 13, 2006
Rome, Italy (LifeNews.com) — The Italian government has no plans to change its stance on stem cell research after a leading official took Italy’s name off of a document preventing the European Union from spending taxpayer funds on embryonic stem cell research. However, the Italian parliament is planning a vote soon on the contentious issue.
At the end of last month, Research Minister Fabio Mussi withdrew Italy’s signature from the document own his own initiative without consulting the rest of newly-elected Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s government.
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. The EU will soon vote on the matter.
But a ministerial panel met on Tuesday and affirmed Mussi’s decision.
Interior Minister Giuliano Amato set up a bioethics committee to examine Italy’s position on the document and determined that Italy had to withdraw its signature from it for technical reasons. The committee included Mussi and Health Minister Livia Turco, who has come under fire for promoting clinical trial of the dangerous abortion drug RU 486.
The ministers said Italy should not be a part of the minority blocking coalition preventing the embryonic stem cell funding. They said they don’t want to put the country in a position of standing up to the entire EU on such a sensitive issue.
Mussi and Turco are scheduled to address the Senate health committee on bioethical issues in two days, according to the ANSA news service.
Meanwhile, the center-right opposition is calling for an immediate vote in the Italian parliament that would require Mussi to put his signature back on the document. They are hoping to gain support from defectors among the ruling leftist lawmakers.
Forza Italia MP Ferdinando Adornato said that the bioethics committee’s meeting was a desperate attempt to justify Mussi’s actions.
"They’re really trying to take us for a ride," he said. "Mussi went against the wishes of the Italian people" he added, pointing to a national referendum on bioethics issues Italy’s people previously considered.
Italian voters rejected a ballot measure to weaken prohibitions on human embryo research last June.
The Vatican has also condemned the signature removal and Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told ANSA, "The withdrawal of Italy’s signature from the ethical declaration is a morally negative act, which weakens the position of the other nations that signed it."
The EU will soon consider the 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.
The government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had signed the document.