Bioethics in the European Community's Seventh Framework Program for RTD (2007-2013)

bridges vol. 12, December 2006 / OpEds & Commentaries

by Franz Pichler


Debate on both sides of the Atlantic

In recent years, the use of human embryonic stem cell research has been widely debated on both sides of the Atlantic (Pichler, 2005, 261-271). In July 2006 US President Bush vetoed the US Senate which had proposed more money for human embryonic stem cell research in the US (Der Standard, 20.7.2006).

About the same time, a fierce battle was going on in Europe regarding the use of Community money for human embryonic stem cell research. The European conflict was due to fierce lobbying from the Catholic Church, which was very restrictive in this matter. But this time Europe was moving ahead of the US.

How it could happen that Europe developed in such a different way?

Whereas the religious movements in the US are growing, the importance of the Catholic Church is diminishing in Europe since the death of the charismatic Pope John Paul II.

Furthermore, the Lisbon Agenda , which was considered a lame duck in the early years after 2000, is now moving forward and encouraging European governments to invest more in research and technological development (RTD). At the meeting in Hampton Court in the UK in 2005, heads of government and states recognized that "Europe must do more to harness its creative power and ability to convert knowledge into high quality products, services, and business models for which there is strong global demand. Progress on innovation will be central to the success of the renewed Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs" (Council of the European Union, 14065/06, p.2). Although human embryonic stem cell research will not create immediate results, it is expected to cure diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's in the long run. Therefore countries like the UK, Sweden, Denmark, or Belgium are now investing more in RTD as well as in stem cell research in order to be at the forefront of medical research. Although Austria invests almost 2.4 percent of its GDP in RTD, it is opposed to human embryonic stem cell research for ethical reasons.

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