Report examines stem cell research legislation in EU Member States

May 15, 2002

Brussels, 14 May 2002

A new report published by Europa-Studien outlines the attitudes and legislation in each EU Member State to stem cell research, revealing that Germany and Austria have the most restrictive legislation, while the UK takes the most liberal approach.

Written by Verena Tschöpe, the report comes shortly after the publication of a new opinion by the European group on ethics (EGE), which states that only human stem cell lines which have been modified through an inventive process to obtain new characteristics for specific industrial application should be patentable.

The report highlights the difficulty in finding a common position on stem cell research, stating 'European States have resisted in a relatively unified manner against the reduction of human embryos to a pure object of utility and the practice of cloning technology for the reproduction of human life, but beyond this, many conflicting interests are competing.'

In Austria, which along with Germany has the most restrictive legislation with regard to stem cell research, laws are based on the principle that reproductive medicine, such as IVF, may only be used for the purpose of reproduction for a married couple or within a stable heterosexual relationship. Ova may therefore only be used for a woman from which they originate, and for no other purpose. The donation of embryos and cells as well as any form of research using embryos is forbidden.

In the UK on the other hand, a law on human fertilisation and embryology was introduced in 1990, allowing research into the following areas:
- the improvement of techniques to treat infertility;
- the improvement of diagnostics of diseases;
- the bettering of knowledge regarding the reasons for miscarriages;
- the development of more efficient fertilisation techniques.

The law even allows research on surplus embryos donated for IVF as well as embryos produced specifically for this purpose.

In 2001, the UK parliament also decided to allow the extraction and study of embryonic stem cells, including the use of therapeutic cloning, in order to develop treatment for diseases and knowledge over the development of embryos. A stem cell bank is also due to be created in the UK.

Other EU Member States have legislation lying somewhere in between that of Germany and Austria, and the UK. In the Netherlands for example, no formal legal framework has been created on research into embryos and stem cell research, although an agreement between politicians and scientists made in 1995 provides a provisional basis for the acceptance of all research proposals.

The Dutch parliament did however propose a new law in September 2001, which would see the use of surplus embryos after IVF used for research purposes up to the 14th day after fertilisation. Research would be permitted under the condition that it would lead to new insights and cannot be carried out in any other way.

For further information on the study, which is available in German, please consult the following web address:
Tel: +030 203 084 070, quoting ISBN 3-9808024-1-8

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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