Priority for adult stem cell research which has already cured patients

The Members of European Parliament Dr. Peter Liese (EPP-ED/CDU), Maria Martens (EPP-ED) and Hiltrud Breyer (Greens) are confident that the European Commission will follow the European Parliament's line on the funding of stem cells under the 7th Research Framework Programme. In a resolution adopted during its last plenary meeting in Strasbourg, the European Parliament asked the Commission to apply the principle of subsidiarity when funding.

This means that research with human embryos and human embryonic stem cells should be financed from the member states national budget in those countries where such research is legal. EU funding should concentrate on alternatives such as adult stem cells and stem cells from the umbilical cord, where research is not controversial in the member states and that has already let to successful treatment of patients. With the adoption of the respective amendment, the European Parliament changed its position, because in the past legislative period, the MEPs voted with majority only to exclude the creation of human embryos including the so-called therapeutic cloning from financing from the European research budget. Financing of research with human embryonic stem cells and so-called supernumerary embryos was approved by the last Parliament.

Liese, Martens and Breyer commented: "We are very confident that the Commission will also change its position because the respective Commissioner Janez Potocnik, Vice-President Verheugen who is partly responsible for research, as well as President Barroso have always underlined that they would like to cooperate with the European Parliament and listen to Parliament's voice, especially in this sensitive area. The Commission plans to adopt its proposal on the 7th Research Framework Programme on 6 April.

The wording on the funding of human embryos and embryonic stem cell research has been included in a resolution of the European Parliament against the trade with human egg cells. The change of Parliament's position is based on two developments, according to the three MEPs: Firstly, enlargement: "More than two third of the Polish MEPs, including the liberals, voted in favour of the respective amendments and the resolution. This clearly shows that enlargement changes the attitude of the European institutions concerning these sensitive issues". The second reason, according to Liese, Martens and Breyer, is that a lot of MEPs have been alerted by the practice of the British authorities in the case of egg cell trade. The British government confirmed prior to the discussion in plenary that Romanian women would donate their egg cells to help British fertility centres to overcome a shortage of egg cells. According to the BBC, in a single clinic in Bucharest, more egg cells are donated than in all clinics in Great Britain together. By donating egg cells, women put their life at risk. The necessary hormone treatment has remarkable side effects, can lead to immediate death and later on to cancer or infertility. Despite this risk, the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has authorised the practice because in a mission in Romania they could allegedly not find any evidence of payments. Payments for donation of human tissues and cells is illegal in Europe and this is accepted also by the British government.

"Every serious person that is confronted with this fact realises the hypocrisies of the British authority's statement. Not only that several teams of journalists who have been visiting Romania found the evidence for payment and identified women who suffered and almost died after an egg cell donation. Common sense must lead one to the question why Romanian women should put themselves at risks when they do not have any incentive do donate? The Romanian authorities have now decided to close the clinic. Are women rights really more respected in Romania than in Great Britain?" A lot of those who in the past trusted that in Great Britain things related to human embryos are regulated and controlled properly have now put their position in doubt. Liese, Martens and Breyer find another direct link to research with human embryonic stem cells. The same authority that has regarded the practice of the Romanian and British fertility centres as no problem recently authorised cloning experiments with human embryos by Ian Wilmut, the creator of the cloned sheep Dolly. Wilmut confirmed in an interview that about more than 200 egg cells would be needed to do the first phase of his experiments and there is already a shortage of egg cell donors in Great Britain. One may ask where these egg cells should come from.

"All these developments show that the discussion about so-called therapeutic cloning and human embryonic stem cell research is not only a question of the rights and the dignity of human embryos but it is clearly a question of women's rights. That is why not only people who are normally linked to the pro-life movement are against the British practice, but also a lot of other groups joined forces against all kind of human cloning."

Contact: Office Dr. Peter Liese, MEP Tel.: 0032 228 47981
Office Maria Martens, MEP Tel.: Tel.: 0032 228 47857
Office Hiltrud Breyer, MEP Tel.: Tel.: 0032 228 47287

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