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Spain can now move forward with stem cell bank

10 May 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 257

A decision about who should be in control of the Spain's first public stem cell bank is closer to being made, now that the two sides to the argument have called a truce. Members of the new Socialist government have agreed to drop legal challenges against the state of Andalusia which were instigated by the previous Conservative government who claimed an Andalucian regional law was in violation of national law. And Andalusia has dropped the lawsuit it began against the government, which said that the national law was 'a flagrant invasion of regional competencies'.

In October 2003, the Spanish government passed new legislation on assisted reproduction and embryo research. The new Spanish law also said that a national bank would be established to 'manage and store' human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) lines derived from donated embryos left over from fertility treatments.

In response, the head of the health department of the Andalucian government, Francesco Vallejo Serrano, announced that the autonomous region would set up its own bank of ES cell lines using any embryos that have been stored for over five years. He believed it was possible to exploit a loophole in a Spanish law governing assisted reproduction, passed in 1988, which only banned research on 'viable embryos'. Serrano argued that embryos stored for more than five years are not viable and should therefore be accessible to researchers. Regional legislation to this effect had already been passed in Andalusia on 9 October 2003 but was immediately challenged by the Spanish national health ministry on the grounds that it was anticonstitutional.

The competing legal actions effectively meant that a moratorium on ES cell research was in force in Andalusia, which would have lasted until the Constitutional Court gave its verdict next July. But the state is run by Socialists, and the victory of the Socialist Party in the general election in March allowed a more reasonable conclusion to be reached. Elena Salgado, the national health minister, said that the end of the fight will allow Spanish officials to 'start a wide and calm debate' over how to regulate the stem cell bank.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Spain's stem cell battle ends
The Scientist |  6 May 2004
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