The Bioethics Convention of the Council of Europe will, for signatories who as yet have no legislation in the area, prohibit most fundamental research on the human embryo, but will permit research on embryos in relation to their development or in relation to the diagnosis of the most serious diseases. This is likely to have a most profound effect on embryo research in Europe and may encourage experimentation as therapeutic research, that is, research undertaken for the benefit of the individual in question. Because it may largely be undertaken in the context of routine clinical treatment, therapeutic research may not be subject to the same rigorous scientific and ethical scrutiny as non-therapeutic research. Moreover, in the area of assisted conception, experimental procedures which are undertaken ostensibly for the benefit of the embryo but, in reality, to provide the infertile couple seeking treatment with a healthy child, may have unexpected and unwanted long term effects.
By means of two focused workshops this concerted action aims to review the current situation within member states with regard to legislation in the area of assisted conception and the extent of both therapeutic and non-therapeutic research being undertaken. The likely impact of the Bioethics Convention will be assessed and a report and recommendations made to the European Commission on whether there is a need for the harmonisation of ethical, legal or other regulation of therapeutic embryo research such as the standardisation of databases and procedures for collecting records so that future analysis of long term effects would be possible.
Human embryo, assisted conception, therapeutic research, ethics, legislation, regulation.