European Science Foundation Calls for Destroying Embryos in Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Oas, Ph.D   |   Nov 28, 2013   |   11:19AM   |   London, England

A recent report from the European Science Foundation (ESF) calling for sustained funding for human stem cell research attempts to conflate “human stem cell research” and “human embryonic stem cell research.”  By doing so, they reveal themselves to be far behind the cutting edge of a rapidly advancing scientific field.

From their press release (available at the above link):

“The report observes that Europe plays a leading role in regenerative medicine research, with most countries featuring legislative frameworks that are globally favourable to human stem cell research. The 30 countries’ position on human stem cell research was grouped into five broad categories; very permissive, permissive with restrictions, restrictive by default, very restrictive and unlegislated.”

The legislative frameworks discussed in the report are strictly with regard to the destruction (and, in some cases, creation) of human embryos for research purposes.  There are no laws prohibiting the harvesting of human stem cells from adult tissues, or the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells, using the technique pioneered in 2006-2007 by Nobel Prize-winning researcher Dr. Shinya Yamanaka.

The report does briefly mention Dr. Yamanaka:

“The use of stem cells has developed under much expectation and even controversy worldwide, particularly there where human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are concerned. The enormous potential of regenerative medicine for restoring tissue or organ function and benefitting mankind has been acknowledged by society with world-class distinctions such as the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology awarded to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka.”

In a report that mentions very few researchers by name, they do mention the man famous for making embryonic stem cell research effectively replaceable – within the context of a report intended to argue that it is essential.

While there have always been moral and ethical objections to human embryonic stem cell research, the development of induced pluripotent stem cells changed the entire research landscape by providing not only an ethical alternative for those with reservations, but also a self-interest-driven reason for everyone else to put down the embryos and embrace this new source.  This was driven in part by policies like the ones detailed in the ESF report.  With legal and regulatory red tape surrounding the use of human embryos, any alternative would be more attractive simply to avoid getting mired in bureaucratic messes or finding oneself unable to patent a new invention down the road.

A Lancet editorial commenting on the report notes this reality:

“However, it is acknowledged in the report that adult stem cells…are associated with fewer legal and ethical constraints.  Therefore, research with these cells is progressing more readily than that involving embryonic stem cells.  The less restricted environment of adult stem-cell research makes these cells more appealing workhorses for the development of new treatments, and perhaps ultimately their application in regenerative medicine.”

All this good news doesn’t seem to have impressed the ESF.  Rather than call for the sustained funding of human stem cell research that doesn’t carry ethical or bureaucratic burdens, and which is yielding great results, they focus on making sure that Europe doesn’t pull the plug on grant-funded embryo obliteration.



This seems very backward in a field that prides itself on forward thinking.  Perhaps no one personifies the sort of imagination needed in the field better than Dr. Yamanaka himself, who said he was inspired by looking into a microscope:

“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters.  I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

To some, embryos are research.  To others, they could be future researchers.  It’s all a matter of how far ahead one is willing to look. Note: Rebecca Oas writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Turtle Bay and Beyond blog and is used with permission.