By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, march 24, 2009 ( – A proposed new directive from the European Commission (EC) will drastically restrict the use of animals in laboratory testing, and certain toxicology tests on animals will be permitted only after alternative methods, including research on tissue taken from human embryos, has proved fruitless, reports the Catholic Herald.

In its coverage of the issue, the Herald quotes a report accompanying the EC directive that says, “The establishment of human embryonic stem cells in 1998 raised hopes in many research areas, including the development of alternatives to animal experiments.” The report says that human embryonic research is a “powerful alternative to animal tests.”

The directive instructs member states to adopt “the 3Rs principles: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement” to animal testing. If the directive is approved by MEPs next month it will be binding on all 27 EU member states.

A vote in the EU parliamentary committee is scheduled for March 31 and amendments are likely to be tabled by MEPs to change the legislation. A final vote will be taken on April 24.

Pro-life advocates at the EU were taken aback by the proposal. Pat Buckley, the European officer of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told, “This is a shocking proposal and yet another instance of the appalling lack of respect for unborn human life in the EU institutions.”

“Animals should never be treated cruelly but to propose that human embryos should be used for research instead is utterly reprehensible,” Buckley added.

Various solutions have been offered for what to do with the world’s supply of “spare” human embryos kept in storage and largely forgotten by the parents who had them created by in vitro fertilisation. But animal rights activists have recently become more vocal in calling for them to be used in medical and other research as an alternative to animal testing. 

The US-based radical animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has given large grants to research groups “to assist in the validation of non-animal test methods to replace existing animal tests,” including the use of embryos as one of the alternatives. In 1999, PETA awarded a $200,000 grant to the Institute for In Vitro Science (IIVS) in Maryland to support alternate testing in lethal dose poisoning tests for chemicals, household products and pharmaceuticals.

It is estimated that there are over 116,000 “spare” embryos in cryogenic storage in Britain alone. In those countries that allow the practice, it is normal for far more embryos to be created than can be safely implanted as part of the IVF process. Those embryos that are not “used” are often left frozen for years, effectively abandoned by parents. Researchers and ethicists have long argued about the proper use of these “spare” embryos, with much of the research community calling for them to be sacrificed for medical and stem cell research.

(Read the Catholic Herald’s coverage at:


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