European Commission Promotes Human Embryo Research

But Pontifical Academy Member Cites Right to Life

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ROME, DEC. 20, 2001 ( A congress on stem cells, organized by the European Commission, ended in Brussels on Wednesday, but failed in the organizer´s objective to promote and justify research using human embryos.

The Italian newspaper Avvenire reported that Philippe Busquin, European commissar for research, and his collaborators only invited scientists, officials and Europarliamentarians as speakers who favor unlimited research in this delicate matter.

Those who had opposing opinions were merely guests, with far fewer opportunities to speak. Among them was Father Roberto Colombo of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the newspaper reported.

Undaunted, Father Colombo, a professor of human biology at the Catholic University of Milan, circulated a statement among the participants emphasizing that «an embryo is a human creature with his/her own identity, who cannot be considered simply as a mass of cells.»

«The embryo has a natural and fundamental right to life,» he stated. «It is ethically unacceptable to use a human embryo as a simple means to an end … [since] a good end does not justify an action which in itself is unjust.»

The priest concluded by proposing that Europe, instead of eliminating human embryos as research material, follow the path of respect for human life by using «cells obtained from adult tissues or umbilical cords.» These, he said, give «the same results sought by research with embryonic stem cells.»

The European Commission´s thesis is reflected in its 2003-06 program for funding research. It advocates that the European Union support research on embryonic stem cells in countries where it is allowed by the national law (such as Great Britain, Sweden, Finland and Spain).

The thesis only excludes the creation of human embryos for the purpose of destroying them in the course of research. Making no allowance for a system to avoid abuses, the commission maintains that «spare embryos,» resulting from artificial insemination but not gestated, may be freely used.

The 2003-06 program was approved by the European Parliament on the first reading. The final vote is expected at the end of March.

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