Brussels, 04 Nov 2003
In order to provide background information for the ongoing European debate on research using human embryonic stem cells, the Commission has published an up to date survey of Member States' regulatory approaches to the issue.
As the introduction to the report states: 'Opinions on the legitimacy of experiments using human embryos are divided according to the different ethical, philosophical and religious traditions in which they are rooted.' The regulatory systems, therefore, vary widely among different countries.
The survey finds that the procurement of stem cells from supernumerary embryos is allowed by law in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, while the practice is prohibited in Austria, Germany, France, Ireland and, under almost all circumstances, Spain. Luxembourg, Italy and Portugal currently have no specific legislation on the subject.
Through its survey of national ethics committees or similar bodies in each country, the Commission learns that a number of Member States are currently reviewing their legislative framework. In Italy, for example, a legislative proposal already approved by the chamber of deputies and currently before the senate, aims to prohibit any experiment on human embryos, the production of embryos for research purposes, and any destruction of human embryos.
Spain, on the other hand, could soon see a relaxation of laws relating to human embryonic research, with a government proposal before parliament that will allow research using surplus frozen embryos, provided they can no longer be used for reproductive purposes and that the consent of the donor is given.
Finally, Sweden's parliamentary committee on genetic integrity has conducted a review of the country's regulation of stem cell research, and proposed that no prohibition relating to the production of fertilised eggs for research should be introduced. As the report explains, however, the non-legislative nature of the committee's proposals is mainly the result of the comprehensive 'Act on ethics review of research involving humans', which comes into force in 2004 and provides for mandatory ethical reviews for all research involving the use of identifiable human material.
The survey also examines whether countries have initiated or plan to conduct public debates on the issue. A separate report is also available, based on a similar survey of acceding countries, States associated to the Sixth Framework Programme, and certain third countries.
To read the reports, please consult the following web address: