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Proposal to ban embryo research 'misguided', says scientific community

14 April 2014
Appeared in BioNews 750

Several organisations within the scientific community have condemned a recent proposal brought to the European Parliament that seeks to ban funding for embryo research and access to reproductive health services in developing countries.

Patrick Gregor Puppinck, the chairman of the 'One of Us' campaign calling for this change, appeared in front of MEPs of European Parliament to demand an 'ethical clause in EU legislation' that would stop funding of research involving human embryos.

The proposal has been brought forward as a citizens' initiative. The Lisbon Treaty, a governing treaty of the EU, requires that any citizens' initiative that gains over one million signatures be brought before the Parliament. Having received 1.8 million signatures, the 'One of Us' petition satisfies the criteria.

The commission is not obliged to take any action by accepting such initiatives. Several scientific organisations, including the Wellcome Trust, have criticised the proposal, urging the European Parliament and European Commission to oppose it.

The Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation, issued a statement saying that 'any roll back of this agreement would be a major step backwards for research across regenerative medicine, reproductive health, genetic disease and delay the development of much needed treatments for a host of untreatable conditions'.

Similarly, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), has said that it 'believes the arguments of the "One of Us" campaign are misguided and not representative of the scientific community or indeed of most European citizens'.

Certain MEPs were also critical of the proposal. Teresa Riera Madurell, a Spanish MEP, remarked: 'The only thing your ban would achieve would be to slow down research at the European level, and that would have important implications for our competitiveness'.

Sophia in't Veld, a lawmaker in the Netherlands, went further, saying to Puppinck that 'I would like to remind you that there are more than 500 million European citizens who have not signed your petition, and I will personally oppose your request until the bitter end'.

Puppinck would also stop any aid to developing countries that allows access to abortion and reproductive health services.

He accused the EU of 'trying to export to poor countries the supposed Western social model which involves contraception and abortion. This policy breaks down families and that is the basis of any society'.

The socially conservative campaign has also been criticised on the basis that it has fundraising links with American and African lobby groups seeking socially conservative changes. Ana Gomes, an MEP from Portugal, repeatedly asked about Puppinck's links with Pat Robertson, the American Christian evangelist.

The petition has been roundly denounced by civil society groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights and the German Foundation for World Population, who warn that funding for family planning and abortion-related services in low and middle-income countries could meet stronger opposition if the effort gains support.

The initiative would 'limit the EU's ability to engage in international commitments' by jeopardizing aid totalling about US $120 million spent each year on maternal and reproductive health, said Michael Cashman, a British MEP.

Arguments applied in the 'One of Us' citizens initiative are 'misguided' and not representative of European citizens
European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology |  9 April 2014
Controversy over citizens' initiative on abortion funding ban
EU Observer |  11 April 2014
European Union Debates Initiative on Embryo Protection
New York Times |  10 April 2014
Group seeks ban on EU embryo research funding
RTE News |  10 April 2014
Statement supporting funding for stem cell and reproductive health research in Europe 2014
Wellcome Trust |  10 April 2014
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