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.