Six European Countries Join to Declare Objection to EU Stem Cell Research Funding

Six European countries have joined together to declare their objection to the European Union’s highly controversial plans to fund stem cell research.

Six European countries have joined together to declare their objection to the European Union’s highly controversial plans to fund stem cell research.

On Monday, Malta’s Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea held a meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Brussels. During preliminary discussion on the EU's Seventh Framework Research Program, Gales stressed that Malta sternly opposes funding of research on human embryos, according to the Times of Malta newspaper.

Together with five other countries – namely Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland and Slovakia – a joint declaration was adopted. They will lobby the European Commission to drop plans to fund research activities that include the use of human embryos, the Times of Malta reported.

The European countries acknowledged that each individual member state within the European Union has the right to decide whether or not to support research on human embryos. However, they "reserve the right to return to the subject of ethical issues in order to give detailed guidelines regarding bioethical principles" within EU.

The controversy over the use of human embryos in stem cell research first sparked in summer 2004 when the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in Britain issued the first license in Europe for therapeutic cloning. The license legally enabled a group of scientists from the Newcastle University to clone a human embryo with desired genetics and to yield the stem cells from the embryo for medical research.

The U.K.-based evangelical Christian charity CARE commented on stem cell research in a statement, saying "It will make and then kill an embryo as a source of spare parts for the use of others. This research cheapens human life."

Maria Böhmer, deputy chair of Germany's conservative opposition, the Christian Democratic Union, also warned that in such kind of cloning and research, "the human being is degraded to a material."

She called Britain's decision as "an extremely alarming and disastrous development for Europe."

In Europe, countries are deeply divided in their opinions on therapeutic cloning and stem cell research. England and Belgium have been shown to be the most liberal, having granted licenses to clone human embryos as a source of stem cells. Switzerland appears to stand in line with the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Spain, allowing research on embryos left over from artificial reproduction.

In late October, European Commission (EC) President José Manuel Barroso - former Portuguese Prime Minister – announced nine new members of the 15-member European Group on Ethics (EGE) in Science and New Technologies, an independent and multidisciplinary body that counsels the EC on policies and legislation. Five of the nine new members are practicing Roman Catholic activists or theology professors, according to the life science magazine The Scientist.

Therefore, many scientists expect that the more conservative group may be less supportive in ethically sensitive matters such as therapeutic cloning and stem cell research.

"The chances that EU may fund research on human embryonic stem cells from their own budget may diminish," said Stellan Welin, a professor of biotechnology and bioethics expert at Linköping University in Sweden, to The Scientist.