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Debating stem cells in Brussels

7 April 2003
By Juliet Tizzard
Director, Progress Educational Trust
Appeared in BioNews 202
This week, the European Parliament is due to vote on a Directive on setting standards of quality and safety for the donation, procurement, testing, processing, storage and distribution of human tissues and cells. It sounds like an inoffensive piece of legislation and it would have been just that - but for the tabling of a series of amendments seeking to ban cloning and stem cell research.

The majority of the amendments to the Directive have appeared after it was sent to the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy Committee last summer for an opinion. In a report published on 25 March, the Environment Committee presented its opposition to the creation of any human  embryo cloned or normally fertilised for research purposes and 'research on human cloning for reproductive purposes'. On the use of human embryonic stem cells in research, the committee recognises that there is no consensus within the European Union. The report describes the derivation and use of embryonic stem cells 'scientifically and ethically controversial and illegal in many Member States'. The report's solution to this apparent problem is to insist that the European Union and its Member States 'specifically promote' the use of stem cells found in the adult body and cells from other 'non-controversial' sources.

Another strategy of the Environment Committee's report is to broaden the scope of the Directive so that it is concerned with laboratory research as well as human tissue used in clinical trials. Some MEPs are concerned that such an extension of its scope would fundamentally change the purpose of the Directive from one which is concerned with the safety of cell and tissue donors to one which is which is concerned with the ethics of cloning and stem cell research. Such issues are usually left to the Members States to decide.

This week's vote in the European Parliament is very important. If the amendments are not defeated, the Directive could have a detrimental impact upon research which, in many Member States, is considered to be a force for good. Let's hope that MEPs are equally optimistic.

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16 December 2003 - by BioNews 
The European Parliament (EP) has today adopted a directive setting high quality and safety standards for the therapeutic use of human tissues and cells throughout the European Union (EU). The aim of the 'tissue directive' is to establish a Europe-wide standard of quality and safety for the donation, procurement, testing...
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