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European group on ethics prepares opinion on use of stem cells

The European Group on Ethics (EGE) is now preparing an opinion on research and the use of human stem cells, to be presented to the European Commission this autumn. At a recent round table on the ethical aspects and uses of human stem cells, Mrs Noelle Lenoir, chairman of the ...

The European Group on Ethics (EGE) is now preparing an opinion on research and the use of human stem cells, to be presented to the European Commission this autumn. At a recent round table on the ethical aspects and uses of human stem cells, Mrs Noelle Lenoir, chairman of the EGE, underlined the importance of continuing research on human stem cells which may give rise to therapies besides post-genome research, while respecting and giving ample consideration to the important ethical problems raised by such research. Representatives from the European Commission and the European Parliament participated in the round table discussion, which will contribute to the EGE's forthcoming opinion. Hopes and doubts were voiced at the meeting as well as concern over researchers' dialogue with patients: 'Researchers only speak to researchers,' lamented Mr Dietmar Wessel, representing a German patients' association for sufferers of Parkinson's disease. 'The patient is confined to the role of object of study that they tolerate, who can sometimes be useful during a conference as the object of a demonstration, when they make public a spectacular medical success.' But, he continued, patients now expect researchers to justify and explain their work, which is often publicly financed. 'The patients must be treated as partners and not as objects of research,' he said. The EGE plans to publish its opinion at the end of September. This will aim to address how to allow research to continue along the best possible path to protect human life and patients' expectations while moving towards a clearer distinction between embryos and 'totipotent' cells, which could not be the object of research, and 'pluripotent stem cells' that could actually be used.