Scientists Lobby Germany, Italy to Promote Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 30, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists Lobby Germany, Italy to Promote Embryonic Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 30,

Brussels, Belgium ( — A group of scientists is calling on European Union member nations — specifically Germany and Italy — to stop threatening researchers with prison sentences if they conduct embryonic stem cell research. Both nations have bans on any scientific studies that involve the destruction of human life.

Scientists from the two major European-funded stem cell research consortia EuroStemCell and ESTOOLS sent a letter to members of the European Parliament on Friday.

They are complaining that research projects that are legal in Sweden and the UK can result in a three year prison sentence in Germany.

"This incongruency creates a plethora of problems for international collaboration," coordinator of the ESTOOLS consortium, Professor Peter Andrews, said in the letter. "Despite common funding by the 6th and 7th framework of the European Commission, scientists within Europe cannot freely exchange personnel and cell lines."

Andrews refers to the EU’s research budget for the next seven years, which it finalized last November. The budget contains a compromise that would make sure the EU does not directly pay for embryonic stem cell research but allows nations to fund it with their own money.

During the budget debate, a coalition of nations, led by Germany, had been working to block any funding for embryonic stem cell research and appeared likely to win a narrow vote.

However, Finland, which holds the EU presidency this year, proposed the compromise and Slovenia, one of the members of the German coalition, reversed its position and supported it. With the Slovenia position change, Germany announced it would back the compromise, provided that EU money not directly fund the destruction of human life.

But the funding compromise still didn’t make embryonic stem cell researchers happy.

Andrews complained in the letter that different national laws within EU countries "seriously hinders the advancement of stem cell research and the sharing of biomedical knowledge."

"Obstacles to research in some partner countries, in particular Germany and Italy, create problems for the free circulation of ideas and people in the European Research Area," he claimed.

Currently, German law bans the production of human embryonic stem cells in the country, and the import of stem cell lines created after January 2002.

Although Italian law forbids the creation of new human embryonic stem cell lines, work on existing cell lines is permitted. However, taxpayer funding of stem cell research there is limited to work on adult stem cells, which are more ethical and have been more effective in treating patients.