EU votes on stem cells fail to solve problem

November 28, 2003

The European Parliament has moved closer to agreement on a common policy on the use of funds to finance experiments on human stem cells - but their proposals are likely to be ignored.

Members of the European Parliament last week rejected all amendments tightening proposed ethical guidelines governing the release of money from the Sixth Framework Programme for research in the field, giving the EU's council of ministers a better chance of approving final rules.

Following an unusually emotional debate, the parliament liberalised the tabled guidelines, voting against a ban on using stem cells that had been gathered after June 2002, the day that the framework programme was approved.

MEPs also voted to allow funding on research using embryo or foetal stem cells from spontaneous or therapeutic abortions, although they added that studies using adult stem cells should be given priority.

The liberal approach led to the parliament's rapporteur on the subject, German Christian Democrat Peter Liese, "disassociating" himself from the vote of 300 votes in favour and 210 against. "The parliament wasted its chance to give research a clear ethical framework," he said.

The initiative now passes to the EU's Italian presidency, which will be keen to seal a deal on stem cells during its term, which expires next month.

But given that Rome has been allied with Germany, Austria and Portugal in opposing spending EU money on stem-cell research, it is unlikely that the Italians will push for a liberal outcome at an anticipated council debate on December 3.

Certainly, the parliament's agreed amendments are unlikely to be adopted, and, under the procedure being used to approve the guidelines, it has no veto to force ministers into line.

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