Following discussions earlier this week, European Union (EU) research ministers have failed to find a majority opinion on how human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research should be funded under the Seventh EU Research Framework Programme 2007-2013 (FP7). Because of the lack of agreement among member states, the EU will continue to take a 'passive' approach to funding. The EU is also being pressed to make a decision on a pan-European cloning policy alongside the funding issue. Many governments across Europe are under pressure to allow the creation of in vitro embryo for research, including cloning - and some countries, like the UK, already allow this. However, Poland and Italy are standing firm against making this an EU-wide policy.
Some EU member states ban ES cell research in its entirety, while others favour a more liberal regulatory approach, allowing such research to take place, but under strict guidelines. Such disparity of treatment across Europe makes it seem unlikely that any central consensus about funding is achievable. Because of this, a policy on ES cell research that applies to the whole of the EU has proved impossible, particularly as Roman Catholic countries such as Italy or Poland, who traditionally are against embryo research, could block any votes. In addition, Austria, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, is among countries that ban the use of ES cells for research. In 2004, Italy passed very restrictive legislation on IVF and related technologies, including embryo research. Other predominantly Catholic European countries ban or restrict the use of human embryos.
Because of the lack of agreement on how to regulate or fund ES cell research in Europe, the EU currently has no general policy on ES cell research funding; rather, applications for research funding are considered on a case-by-case basis by a committee under the current framework programme (FP6), which ends this year. In order to qualify for research funds, projects must show a need to use ES cells, by establishing that the same research cannot be undertaken using adult stem cells, such as those derived from bone marrow. Only six projects using ES cells have been approved for EU funds so far.
Following the meeting earlier this week, a European Commission official said 15 of the 25 member states favored continuing the case-by-case approach. Elisabeth Gehrer, Austria's minister for education, science and culture, said that in the light of the disagreements about ES cells, the simplest solution would be to carry on with the system as it currently stands. 'We still think that adult stem cell research is preferable to embryonic stem cells, but we don't have a qualified majority in favour of this', she said.
Sources and References
EU fails to agree on common embryo research policy