In the statement, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said Europe “must send a clear sign that it recognizes the importance of embryonic stem cell research.”
Indeed, it is a critical moment for research in Europe because funding there occurs in seven-year cycles. Decisions made this year will determine the EU's program for research and innovation running from 2014 to 2020. The funding renewal comes on the heal of last October’s ruling by the European Court of Justice that products and procedures involving human embryonic stem (ES) cells cannot be patented.
A recent article by Professor Aurora Plomer of the University of Sheffield School of Law argues that the EU court's ruling shows complete disregard for settled policy among member states in Europe. She illustrates how the Court’s decision trumped a variety of national and EU wide policies.
The article situates the ruling of the Brustle ruling in the wider legal context of the interaction of European Union law with national laws and European Convention law on fundamental human rights in Europe. Professor Plomer argues that the EU court's ruling shows “complete disregard for the diversity of moral and legal cultures on the human embryo in Europe as recognized by the European Court of human rights.”
She goes on to suggest:
The EU court's ruling in Brustle represents a complete break with the settled policy of the European court on human rights to respect the diversity of national moral cultures in Europe on this very sensitive question. The views adopted by the EU Court amount to judicial imposition of a uniform (most likely religiously inspired view) on the whole of Europe where the moral and legal reality is that there is no such consensus.We asked Professor Plomer whether a decision to extend EU-wide funding would influence policy. She indicated any decision taken on the funding of hESC research will not affect the court.
She made the following observation:
One of the things I find striking is that the critics are trying 'to have their cake and eat it' as we say over this side of the pond. They are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they are acknowledging that there is a division of opinion in Europe amongst states, which support hESC research and those which don't. But on the other hand, they are also seeking to impose the view of states which are opposed to stem cell research on the whole of Europe, much as the EU Court's ruling has done. The European Union is founded on respect for the diversity of moral and cultural values in Europe, democracy and the rule of law. Cutting funding for stem cell research would be contrary to the fundamental values on which the EU is founded.Policy and funding decisions in the EU could be important for those scientists hoping to leverage existing CIRM’s collaborative funding agreements. While these agreements are not directly impacted by the EU decision, a reduction in funding or an increase in prohibitive policies in the broader research environment in the UK, Germany, Spain, and France, where we have do agreements, may be detrimental.