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Feb 05, 2001
 |  BioCentury  |  Politics, Policy & Law

Roiling the waters on stem cells in Europe

OXFORD - Britain once again seems to have polarized opinion in Europe over the issue of human embryonic stem cell research. By voting to extend its already liberal human fertility and embryology legislation on the limited use of human embryos to include stem cell research, the British parliament attracted both condemnation and applause across Europe.

While some of Europe's more conservative elements reaffirmed their opposition to the development of human embryonic stem cell technology, some member states, such as France, Italy and the Netherlands, have already hinted that they may introduce similar legislation.

Meanwhile, the European Commission, which spends much of its time looking to create a single European area, already has declared that it will not seek to develop pan-European legislation on the issue, even though the European Parliament has called for an outright ban on development of the technology.

In the past six weeks, politicians in both U.K. houses of Parliament overwhelmingly approved new rules governing research on embryos in the U.K. Until last week, under a law passed in 1990, researchers in the U.K. were allowed to conduct certain experiments with human embryos up to 14 days old. Research on these embryos was limited to infertility, the causes of miscarriage, and genetic diseases, as well as developing new forms of contraception.

The new regulation allows researchers to use the embryos to develop new treatments. In particular, the new rules allow researchers to derive and use human embryo stem cells and conduct nuclear transfer experiments with human cells. The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, which already oversees fertility treatments and licenses human embryo research, will be responsible for enforcing the new rules.

Not surprisingly, the vote was hailed by the U.K. biotech industry as good news for patient groups. "The use of embryonic tissues is already permitted for...

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