Commission report on human embryonic stem cell research provides basis for discussion on ethics

April 8, 2003

Brussels, 7 April 2003

The Commission released today a report on the scientific, ethical, legal and socio-economic issues related to human embryonic stem cell research. The question on how to decide on EU funding for projects involving research with human embryonic stem cells was left open in the decision-making process on the EU's 6 th Research Framework Programme (FP6). The Council of Ministers, Parliament and Commission agreed to decide on this issue in the course of 2003 and to debate it at a seminar with experts in the field. The Commission's report examines the potential benefits of human stem cell research and the pros and cons of using stem cells from different sources. It also reviews the current state of legislation in various EU Member States and the governance of human stem cell research under FP6. The report provides a basis for an open and informed debate at the forthcoming inter-institutional seminar on 24 April 2003. The seminar will contribute to defining guidelines for EU-funded stem cell research.

"This report and the forthcoming seminar are not about establishing EU legislation on ethical questions", said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "Regulating on ethical matters is the competence of Member States. In Europe, we have a legitimate diversity of rules and ethical frameworks in the field of human embryonic stem cell research. The challenge is to explore, through dialogue, how we can foster strong collaboration in a European Research Area and promote cutting-edge research for the benefit of citizens while respecting national rules and values."

The seminar, with the participation of Ministers of Research, Members of the European Parliament and experts in science, law and ethics, feeds into the Europe-wide debate on the issue. Following the seminar the Commission intends to submit to Council and Parliament a proposal for establishing guidelines for deciding on EU funding of research projects involving the use of human embryos and human embryonic stem cell in the context of FP6.

Stem cell research is one of the promising areas of biotechnology, which offers the prospect of developing new methods to repair or replace tissues or cells damaged by injuries or diseases and to treat serious chronic diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease. Stem cell research is expected to be equally important for basic science, as well as for the understanding of disease development and for the development of safer and more effective drugs. It does, however, raise ethical questions when stem cells are derived from human embryos.

During the decision-making process on FP6, the Commission agreed not to fund research projects using human embryos and embryonic stem cells, with the exception of banked or isolated human embryonic stem cells in culture, until implementing provisions were agreed by the end of 2003. The Commission committed itself to monitor the scientific advances and needs, as well as the evolution of international and national legislation, regulations and ethical rules regarding human embryonic stem cell research, taking into account also the opinion of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New technologies (EGE). This report is the result of its monitoring.

The report reviews:

  • the characteristics of stems cells and the various sources available

  • the potential application of human stem cell research

  • the current state-of-the-art in human embryonic stem cell research

  • advantages and limitations of the various sources of human stem cells

  • socio-economic aspects

  • the governance of human embryonic stem cell research.
This latter aspect involves:
  • ethical issues at stake

  • regulations of human embryonic stem cell research in EU Member States

  • new regulations under discussion in EU Member States

  • regulations in Candidate Countries

  • governance of stem cell research in the context of FP6
Representatives from the three institutions involved in the seminar will be available to answer questions from interested journalists on 24 April at 12.30 at the Commission's Charlemagne builiding, rue de la Loi 170, in Brussels.

For further information please visit:

DN: IP/03/506 Date: 07/04/2003

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