European Union Reaches Compromise on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funds

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 24, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

European Union Reaches Compromise on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funds Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 24, 2006

Brussels, Belgium ( — The European Union has reached a compromise on the issue of funding embryonic stem cell research. It would make sure that the EU does not directly pay for embryonic stem cell research but member nations would be free to use EU science funds they receive to pay for it in their own countries.

The compromise means that some money from the EU’s $65 billion science budget will fund some embryonic stem cell research over the 2007-2013 period that it covers.

But it also includes consessions to nations oppose to embryonic stem cell research that the funding would not go to pay for destroying human embryos but rather for research on existing embryonic stem cells or on research conducted after the destruction of human life has taken place.

A coalition of nations, led by Germany, had been working to block any funding for embryonic stem cell research and appeared to be on the verge of winning the debate.

However, Finland, which holds the EU presidency this year, proposed the compromise and Slovenia, one of the members of the coalition, reversed its position and supported it.

"We believe [this is] a constructive compromise. It takes into account the legal situation in every member state," Dusan Lesjak, the Slovenian minister, said, according to a London Guardian report.

Finnish Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen told the meeting, "I would hope this would help us forge a common agreement on this."

With the Slovenia position change, Germany and its supporters announced they would back the compromise, provided that EU money not directly fund the destruction of human life.

Annette Schavan, the German science minister, said "We can agree once there is a clear statement that there can be no financial incentives for the destruction of embryos."

Before the compromise, Germany and Austria helped lead the debate about protecting human life from destruction in embryonic stem cell research.

"We have got to do something that will conserve broad support for human life from its conception," Schavan said, according to the Guardian. "The EU science program should not be used to offer financial incentives to kill embryos."

Elisabeth Gehrer, the Austrian minister, added, "Do we really want 300-400 fertilized human embryos to be destroyed to create stem cells? This destruction of human embryos to create stem cell lines is not something we can support. We do not want community money, which includes Austrian money, to support this."

Poland, Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Lithuania voted against the compromise, but Germany, Slovenia and Italy joined with pro-embryonic stem cell research nations in supporting it.

Leaders from Britain, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Sweden spoke in favor of funding embryonic stem cell research with EU tax dollars.

In June, taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research from the European Union looked certain to happen after the EU parliament voted 284 to 249 for a budget containing it.

However, changed made to the budget required extra votes and started with a meeting of national science ministers.

The European Union budget for all science and technology projects is about $64.3 billion and funding for stem cell research is a small part of it. The budget does not fund human cloning for either research or reproductive purposes or the genetic modification of humans.

The EU has no policy on how it provides grants to scientists but a committee decides the research grants the science budget will fund on a case by case basis.

The 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 the last budget, eight embryonic stem cell research and over 100 adult stem cell research projects received financial support.