Bishops Assail European Commission's Guidelines for Stem-Cell Research

Plan Would Allow EU Funds for Experiments on Human Embryos

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, JULY 10, 2003 ( Catholic bishops lamented the proposal by the European Union head office to allocate EU funds for research projects that use human embryonic stem cells.

In a press statement, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) stated that such “research raises fundamental moral problems because it involves the destruction of human embryos.”

“For this reason, it is not permitted in several EU member states,” explained the statement, which was signed by Monsignor Noël Treanor, COMECE secretary.

On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed guidelines for the funding of research on human embryonic stem cells under the Sixth EU Research Framework Program.

The bishops’ statement said: “The [European] Commission proposes to fund such research using embryonic stem cells drawn from human embryos that were created before 27 June 2002. While this ought to ensure that human embryos are not deliberately created for research purposes, which is to be welcomed, it does not resolve the fundamental ethical issue.

“The Commission also proposes that the research would only be carried out in those Member States where it is permitted under national law. This ought to be self-evident. However, all Member States, including those where such research is illegal, contribute to the common EU budget and would therefore be required to support such research financially.”

“In our view,” the bishops’ statement continues, “the principle of subsidiarity requires that the decision on whether to provide financial support for research that raises such serious moral concerns should be made by individual Member States. The decisions of countries in this sensitive area are rooted in historical experiences as well as in philosophical and religious orientations. Given the fundamental differences between the Member States regarding research with human embryonic stem cells, the EU should refrain from joint financing of such research projects.”

It adds: “We hope that scientific advances will soon make new therapies available for illnesses which are incurable today. There is, for example, promising research involving adult stem cells, which carries high therapeutic potential and deserves EU funding. At the same time, it is not clear whether research on human embryonic stem cells will ultimately lead to therapies. Above all, we believe that human life has an intrinsic and absolute value at every stage of its development, and that it should not therefore be used as ‘raw material.’ A good end cannot be used to justify any means.”

The Research Framework Program was adopted on June 27, 2002. A moratorium until the end of 2003 was set on a decision regarding the funding of research using human embryonic stem cells.

The European Commission’s proposed ethical guidelines must now be considered by the European Parliament, which can offer an opinion, before being sent to the Council of Ministers for a final decision by year-end.

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