European Community: Reservations About Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The European Union’s decision to continue funding stem cell research amounted to a compromise, after the bloc was able to overcome opposition from Germany along with six other mostly Roman Catholic member states. Under the compromise, EU funds would not be used to pay for research activities that aimed to destroy human embryos. Funding could be used for other parts of the stem-cell research process.Of course, the EU policy is a muddled compromise. Funding other elements of embryonic stem cell research creates the incentive to destroy embryos.
In addition, the EU will not bankroll research aimed at cloning humans or at modifying their genetic heritage. Overall, Finnish Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen said at a news conference in Brussels, funding for stem-cell research would be subject to tight rules and guidelines.
Pekkarinen - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency - said that so far the EU has approved nine stem-cell research projects. “If we talk about nine projects, none of the projects is devoted only to human embryonic cell research. But they are part of that project (stem-cell research). Since they are part of that project, of course, they have to go through a whole series of checks,” he said.
According to Pekkarinen, funding for stem cell research amounts to less than half of one percent of the union’s health budget. But that money nonetheless remains controversial. The seven EU members opposed to the research funding, which include Poland, Malta, Austria and Italy among others, had hoped to gather enough support to block the research funding altogether.
But then, President Bush’s policy of not allowing government funds to be used for embryonic research but allowing destruction of embryos paid for by private funds is a muddled compromise. If human life is being destroyed, it ought to be illegal.
But muddled compromise in a democracy should hardly be a surprise.
The key point here is that the Bush Administration position cannot be called “extreme.” The position of the liberals like Wisconsin’s Governor Doyle is, in comparative perspective the “extreme” one. Not merely American Republicans, but the European Community has reservations about destroying human embryos. Doyle, of course, vetoed a bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature banning human cloning.
Opposition to embryonic stem cell research and human cloning is particularly strong in Germany. According to an August 2004 article in Deutsche Welle:
German top doctors and political parties react to Britain’s decision to allow human embryo cloning by calling for an EU ban on the practice and for Berlin to issue a more critical ethical position.One wonders where Jim Doyle would fit in the German political scene. On most issues, with the Social Democrats. On this issue: nowhere.
Though cloning is already illegal in Germany, medical associations and a broad roster of politicians on Friday called on the government to take a strong ethical stand on the issue and push for a binding international ban. The move came after Britain on Wednesday gave scientists the go ahead to clone human embryos for purposes of medical research. British law, however, still prohibits the actual cloning of humans.
Leading the charge, the German Medical Association called for the complete prohibition of all forms of embryo cloning. “We can’t allow embryos to be harvested like raw materials,” association president Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe told reporters.
Other medical experts concurred. “The indivisibility of human rights are being eroded under the blanket of research freedom,” said Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the Marburger Association of Doctors. He also called for a Europe-wide law protecting embryos.
Wolfgang Wodarg -- a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party and chairman off the bio-ethics commission in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament -- called Britain’s decision a “catastrophe.” The Social Democrats’ junior coalition partner, the Greens, have also called for the international community to forbid cloning.
“It’s up the German politicians to work towards holding together the nations that have spoken out against cloning,” Christa Nickels, a leading Green and chairwoman of the Bundestag’s human rights committee, told public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
A cloning ban also found resonance with Germany’s conservative opposition. The Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, called for the imposition of a cloning ban and criticized Britain’s move as “unacceptable.”