STRASBOURG, October 18, 2011 ( – Pro-life leaders are hailing a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union released today on the status of the human embryo. 

In the important and closely-monitored judgment, the Court of Luxembourg has decided that an invention is excluded from being patented where the process requires either the prior destruction of human embryos or their use as a base material.

The case originally concerns a patent held by Oliver Brüstle since 1997, in relation to a process using embryonic stem cells in order to treat neurological diseases. The German Federal Court of Justice, hearing the case introduced by Greenpeace against Brüstle’s patent, referred the question to the Court of Justice concerning the interpretation of the “human embryo” mentioned in an EU directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.

According to the directive, an invention is excluded from patentability when it “requires the prior destruction of human embryos or their use as base material, whatever the stage at which that takes.”

The question in the Brüstle case was whether the exclusion from patentability of the human embryo expressed in the Directive covers all stages of life from fertilisation of the ovum or whether other conditions must be met, for example that a certain stage of development must be reached.

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In response to this question, the Court has decided that the Directive covers all stages of life. It provides a comprehensive definition for the human embryo, as an organism “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being” whether they are the result of fecundation, or the product of cloning. Therefore, for the Court, “a non-fertilised human ovum into which the cell nucleus from a mature human cell has been transplanted and a non-fertilised human ovum whose division and further development have been stimulated by parthenogenesis must also be classified as a ‘human embryo’.”

The pro-life European Centre for Law and Justice has welcomed the decision.  “The proper protection of the human embryo requires that the human embryo is given a broad definition. This decision protects life and the human dignity at all stage of its early development,” said ECLJ Director Gregor Puppinck.

“One of its consequences will be to promote the more ethical fields of researches, mainly the research on adult stem cells. Financially, the research on embryos and embryonic stem cells will be less attractive without the ability to get patents in Europe.”