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Ethics experts warn against a priori banning of research which destroys human embryos

The European Commission should not place a total ban on funding for all research on human embryos that result in their destruction, according the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE). This follows the European Parliament's vote in favour of excluding ...
The European Commission should not place a total ban on funding for all research on human embryos that result in their destruction, according the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE). This follows the European Parliament's vote in favour of excluding such research from receiving funding and a subsequent request from the European Commission for the EGE's professional opinion on the subject.

The Group has taken its position because, it says, "the distinction which could be made between research which implies the destruction of the embryo and research that would enable the embryo to develop to full term would be artificial".

"With a view to current knowledge and new techniques it would be an unacceptable risk to implant into a woman's uterus an embryo which previously has been the subject of research and hence may have been damaged. Consequently, the amendment in question proposes not to finance research projects at European level that ultimately end in the destruction of the embryo and in doing so covers practically all research on human embryos."

The EGE goes on to conclude that Community funding "should not a priori exclude human embryo research". This, it says, "is the object of different ethical choices in different countries".

To back this claim, the EGE has published the text of its opinion highlighting the scientific, legal and ethical background to human embryo research. The group also sets out recommendations for future research policy within the European Union.

Legislation on the matter varies greatly between different countries in the EU. For example, research leading to the destruction of human embryos is forbidden by law in Germany, Austria and Ireland, yet permitted under certain conditions in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Spain and Sweden. Because of this, the EGE report says it would be "inappropriate to impose one exclusive moral code".

But it argues for strict controls, recommending that human embryo research should be placed under state control, regardless of whether projects are carried out in the public or private sector. The EGE suggests this may help to minimise any risks of arbitrary experimentation.

The EGE maintains there is an urgency to enlarge the debate.

Under the Fifth Framework Programme, funding will not be given to research on human embryos that could result in the cloning of individuals, or which alters an individual's genetic heritage.
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