Keep Dogma Out ot European Research
The EHF has launched a major campaign towards EU institutions to remove religious restrictions from EU policy on research
European institutions are currently negotiating the Commission’s new proposal “Horizon 2020” which will set the rules for European Union (EU) funding for research in Europe for the rest of the decade. Like previous programmes, “Horizon 2020” raises ethical issues (article 16), one of which is the European funding for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research.
The European Commission has recommended preserving this funding on the basis of existing European rules. However, in the European Parliament and among Member States, several voices have already called for this funding to be cut in order to respect the “human dignity” of these embryos.
As conservative religious groups have spread mislead information about this research, we wanted to give European citizens a better understanding of this important issue.
We therefore asked Belgian scientists to answer six basic questions :
What is an embryonic stem cell ? Why is stem cell research so important ? Will this lead to human cloning ?
What about ethics ? A science Vs. faith issue ? Why is EU funding so important ?
What do we ask ?
As humanists, secularists and scientists, we are extremely worried to hear that several religious organisations and Member-States are asking on the basis of dogma for a stop on EU funding of hESC research. We ask the EU to embrace a secular and scientific approach on this issue.
This is definitely not the case at present: during the negotiations of the Seventh Framework Program for research in 2006, the EU manifestly bowed to direct religious pressure and cut the scope of stem cell work eligible for EU funding. Even if the EU has not completely closed the door to such research, it has multiplied obstacles and so discouraged European hESC researchers. These compromises have left it with an extremely restrictive and ethically incoherent policy.
We are not asking for the unconditional promotion of hESC research in Europe: we agree that it must be conducted within strict ethical limits but we think that decisions on whether or not to allow EU funding for it should be based on relevant medical considerations only and not on religious dogma. So far, research results have shown that human embryonic stem cells (retrieved from seven-day-old embryos) have great potential for treating a number of diseases, unlike adult or induced stem cells which have not proved to be as promising as expected. So hopes are high with embryonic stem cells, but the research is quite recent and needs to be pursued further to confirm and explore their power to heal.
With “Horizon 2020”, the European Union should therefore enlarge the scope of hESC research eligible for EU funding (always subject to national legislation), make the European ethical review more transparent and encourage wide public debate on the issue. This implies abandoning the current position which excludes EU funding for the creation of new hESC lines and modifying the Commission’s new proposal “Horizon 2020”.
Given the secular nature of EU institutions, this is the only coherent political attitude in a context where religious concepts of human dignity and exaggerated urging of the precautionary principle are increasingly being used by religious groups to impede scientific development.
For more details about our request towards European institutions, read our full position paper.
Our supports :
The European Association of Global Bioethics, Dr. Paul De Knop, Rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Pr. Dr. Bernard Rentier, Rector of the University of Liège (Belgium), Pr. Dr. Guillaume Lecointre, Professor at the National Museum of Natural History (France), Pr. Maurizio Mori, President of the Italian Consulta di Bioetica and professor of Bioethics, University of Turin (Italy), Dr. Julian Huppert, Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics, Member of Parliament for Cambridge (United Kingdom), Dr. Pierre Vanderhaeghen, Research Director at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in human and molecular Biology, Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). Pierre Vanderhaeghen was awarded the 2011 Francqui Price in Biological and Medical Sciences, Dr. Cédric Blanpain, Researcher at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in human and molecular Biology, Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). In 2012, Cédric Blanpain received the fourth annual ISSCR (International Society for Stem Cell Research) Outstanding Young Investigator Award, Pr. Dr. Bernard Rentier, Recteur de l’Université de Liège, Pr. Dr. Steve Jones, FRS, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London (United Kingdom), Pr. Dr. Martin E. Schwab, Chair of Neuroscience at the Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich and Department of Health Science and Technology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland), Pr. Dr. Maurizio Balistreri, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Turin, Department of Life Sciences and System Biology (Italy), Pr. Dr. Inge Liebaers, Emeritus professor in medical genetics, former Director of the Center for medical genetics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), member of the National Advisory Committee on Bioethics, Pr. Dr. Charles Susanne, Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium). President of the European Anthropological Association and former Dean of the Faculty of Sciences , VUB, Pr. André Van Steirteghem, Professor- Emeritus at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Editor-in-Chief of “Human Reproduction”, Honorary Consultant for the Center for Reproductive Medicine, UZ Brussel, Pr. Dr. Robert A. Hinde, FRS, FBA, Emeritus Professor in the Subdepartment of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), Pr. Dr. Yvon Englert, Dean of the Medicine Faculty, Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), member and former President of the Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics, former member of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, Pr. Sir Tom Blundell, FRS, FMedSci, Director of Research and Professor Emeritus at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), Pr. Dr. Thierry Vandendriessch, Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Katholieke Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Pr. Dr. Jeanine Heuson-Stiennon, Emeritus Professor and Honorary Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Mons (Belgium), member of the International Bioethics Committee of Unesco, member and former President of the Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics, member and former President of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium, Pr. Dr. Henri Alexandre, Professor Emeritus at the University of Mons-Hainaut and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), member of the Belgian Federal Commission for medical and scientific research on embryos in vitro, Dr. Marie-Christine Mauroy, Medical Director of the Birth and Childhood Office (Belgium), Dr. Helena Cronin, Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics (United Kingdom), Pr. Dr. Dan Larhammar, Professor at Uppsala University, Faculty of Medicine (Sweden), Pr. Dr. Karin Nilsson Forsberg, Professor at Uppsala University, Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology (Sweden), Pr. Dr. Rudi Baron Verheyen, Emeritus Professor and Honorary Rector-President of the University of Antwerp (Belgium), Pr. Dr. Walter Decleir, Emeritus Professor at the University of Antwerp, Honorary Rector of the State University Center or Antwerp (Belgium), Pr. Dr. Karen Sermon, Professor in Human and experimental genetics, embryology and developmental biology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Dr. Georges Sand, Professor in higher technical education, Mons and Charleroi (Belgium), Dr. Michel Petein, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Pathology and Genetics of Gosselies (Belgium), Pr. Dr. Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, University of Oxford (United Kingdom), Véronique De Keyser, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, M. Philippe Busquin, former European Commission Commissioner for Research, former Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Guy Lengagne, former French Minister, Honorary French Deputy, former member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Honorary Mayor of Boulogne-sur-Mer (France).
Public event :
In the framework of this campaign, we organised a public hearing at the European Parliament on 15 November 2012.
With : MEP Marc Tarabella ; Pierre Galand, EHF President ; Philippe Busquin, former European Commissioner for Research, innovation and science; Pr Pierre Vanderhaeghen, Senior Research Scientist at FNRS, Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in human and molecular Biology at ULB; Julian Hitchcock, Intellectual property & life science lawyer at Lawford Davies Denoon
More in details :
Opponents to hESC research have relied extensively on the 2011 “Oliver Brüstle v. Greenpeace” decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which ruled that patent protection for inventions based on human embryonic stem cells (hESC) was forbidden in the EU. In its ruling, the CJEU argues that the destruction of human embryos for scientific research violates the principle of respect for human dignity. It has taken a broad interpretation of the term ‘human embryo’ to include any cell able to start the development process of a human being.
The EHF is obviously very concerned that the CJEU has imposed an objectionable view of the term “human embryo” and disregarded the plurality of its moral perspectives in Europe. But it is also extremely worried to observe an abusive use of this CJEU ruling to reach conservative agendas which will surely hamper European research.
Saying that the EU should not keep on funding hESC research because of this CJEU decision is gross propaganda : as several lawyers state it, its consequences for such research may not be as dramatic as they sound.
- First, because this ruling does not forbid researchers to use human embryonic stem cells as research materials where permitted. It only restricts the patentability of such research.
- Second, because laboratories or businesses wherever they are based (included Europe) are still free to apply for patents on such cells in any of the worldwide jurisdictions where they are permitted.
- Third, because investors can find other ways to protect hESC inventions in Europe : for instance, by patenting the complex technology (i.e. robotics, software, chemicals) needed to turn human ES cells into treatments instead of the cells themselves.
- Finally, it is sometimes argued that this absence of patent protection could even create a European “research heaven” and attract hESC researchers.
Although it will take some time to work out the full implications of this ruling, hESC research will not be impeded in Europe because of this CJEU’s decision. However, it could dramatically slow down if European funding were to be cut.
Read the article of the Belgian daily Le Soir on Horizon 2020 and stem cells research (24/10/2012) – French only.
This content last updated 26 April 2013 @ 3:37 pm