It is still not known whether European funds will become available to allow researchers to create new embryonic stem cell lines (ES cell). At a meeting of the governing bodies of the European Union (EU) - the European Commission (EC), European Parliament (EP) and Council of Europe - in April, the three bodies committed themselves to seeking 'a pragmatic solution' for December 2003, when a ban currently in force comes to an end.
When it was originally formulated, the European research funding programme (Framework Programme (FP) 6) did not prohibit funds 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 December 2003, funding for ES cell research using already banked ES cells.
Now, the Commission has promised that it will submit a proposal on funding by the end of this month which will be voted on by the EP and the Council in September, so that measures can be put in place for when the ban ends in December. Research Commissioner for the EC, Phillipe Busquin, said that it may decide to fund research across Europe on a case-by-case basis. The EC's proposal will in part be based on a report by the European Group on Ethics, an independent advisory body based in Belgium.
Representatives from some of the countries opposing ES cell research have 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. Italian, German and Austrian representatives argued that for this reason, the funding ban should be extended. Prior to last week, the Irish government had been quiet on whether it would support a continued ban. If it had, the four countries would have held 27 votes at the Council, which would have prevented those supporting funding having a majority. Last week, the Irish government, in a move that has been called 'unconstitutional' because of the country's policy of protection of life from conception, refused to support the ban. Portugal has not yet revealed its position, delaying an announcement until a new national law is debated in June.
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EU stalls on funding of ES cell research