The European Commission made proposals last week to allow embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research using ES cells newly derived from stored human embryos to be funded by the European Union (EU). Countries where this type of ES cell research is prohibited by national laws, such as Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Ireland, will be ineligible for the funding. These and other countries may oppose the new proposals when they are voted on in the European Parliament. Representatives from some European countries opposed to ES cell research have previously argued that EU funds, which come from the taxes of all member states, should not be used to fund research in one member state that may have a less restrictive policy than others and that for this reason, the funding ban should be extended.
When it was originally formulated, the European research funding programme (Framework Programme 6) did not prohibit funding for establishing new ES cell lines. But in September 2002, after opposition from a number of countries, including Italy, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Portugal, the European Parliament voted against all forms of human cloning and put heavy restrictions on research on stem cells taken from early human embryos. In response, the governing bodies in Europe agreed not to allow funding for any research projects involving embryos left over from fertility treatments and also to limit, until 31 December 2003, funding for ES cell research using already banked ES cells.
Now, the guidelines issued by the European Commission say that a Europe-wide registry of ES cell lines will be established and research will be allowed on ES cells harvested from left over IVF embryos created before 27 June 2002 (the date of the adoption of the Framework Programme). Funds would only be available if it was demonstrated that no adequate alternative existed, such as existing ES lines or adult stem cells. A maximum amount of 2.5 billion dollars would be available for such research. The proposals will be voted on by the European Parliament and Council in September, so that measures can be put in place for when the moratorium on the creation of new human ES cell lines currently in force ends, in December.