Thursday September 2, 2010

More Human Embryo Experimentation Likely under EU Directive: Bishops

By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, September 2, 2010 ( – An EU proposal to restrict the use of animals in medical research has alarmed pro-life observers and the Catholic bishops’ conference for the European Union.

The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) has this week voiced its opposition to an article in the EU’s draft directive on animal experimentation that would require the use of “alternative” test subjects that could include living human embryos.

A statement from COMECE said that while it welcomes efforts to curb the use of animals for medical testing, which the bishops called “an ethical question, particularly for Christians,” they are “deeply concerned” by Article 4 of the directive.

Article 4 states, “Member States shall ensure that, wherever possible, a scientifically satisfactory method or testing strategy, not entailing the use of live animals, shall be used instead of a procedure.”

“This general wording,” they said, “would allow, for example, tests using human embryonic stem cells.”

This would encroach not only on the lives of the embryos so used, but on the sovereignty of member states that do not currently have explicit legislation on human embryonic experimentation. Such states, they said, “could be obliged under this legislation to apply testing methods involving such ethically contentious cells.”

“This provision in the draft directive therefore raises the question as to whether the EU’s animal protection policy glosses over the fundamental difference between animals and the dignity of humans beings.”

COMECE called on the Council of Ministers of the European Union explicitly to exclude from the directive research methods involving human embryonic or fetal cells.

The bishops called for an “honest and open debate” on the use of embryos and embryo-derived tissues in research, and on “the fundamental ethical question as to whether society sanctions the destruction and instrumentalisation of human embryos in order to minimise animal testing.”

The 131-page draft directive is scheduled to be debated during the European Parliament’s plenary session on 7 September. Should it be adopted, the directive would restrict laboratory testing and certain toxicology tests on animals that will be permitted only after alternative methods, including the use of tissue taken from human embryos, has proved fruitless.

The European Commission’s 2009 report on Alternative Testing Strategies gives examples of those methods currently being developed in various EU countries. Of 21 methods, five proposed to make use of human embryonic stem cells. The UK-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has issued alerts to pro-life people all over Europe, and is asking those concerned to contact their Members of the European Parliament.

In their analysis of the directive’s progress, SPUC said that four amendments had been proposed that would explicitly protect human embryos from experimental use in place of animals, but that to date, none of them have been adopted into the directive.

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Read related LSN coverage:

EU Countries Must Use Embryos Instead of Animals for Testing: Proposed Directive

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