24th September 2010
Embryonic stem cell research and the EU – Revised EU Directive on animal testing highlights Ireland’s urgent need to ban human embryo-destructive research
The European Parliament passed a revised draft Directive earlier this month, requiring Member States to use alternatives to animal testing where available and rejected calls to rule out methods using cells of human embryos involving the deliberate destruction of those human embryos.
Johanna Touzel, speaking for the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, said it was paradoxical to protect animals from suffering by methods requiring the destruction of human embryos, and warned that Member States that did not have an explicit ban on embryo destructive rsearch could find themselves forced by EU law to use alternative methods requiring the destruction of human embryos.
This comes as a wake-up call for Ireland, which has no law protecting the human embryo outside the mother following the Supreme Court ruling in the frozen embryos case, R -v- R.
On 8th September 2010, the European Parliament voted to revise Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of animals used in research. Where alternatives methods exist to testing on animals, the Directive requires Member States to introduce legislation making the use of these alternative methods obligatory.
The European Commission issued a set of questions and answers on the revised Directive. The thirteenth question is, ‘Would it be obligatory to use alternative methods involving human embryonic stem cells if these present themselves as alternatives to animal tests?
The answer makes it clear that ‘the requirement to use alternative methods in place of an animal method’ is ‘a legal obligation that has been in place since 1986.’ And Articles 4.1 restates this.
The answer also says that where a Member State has legislation prohibiting the use of human embryonic stem cells ‘the revised Directive cannot overrule any such national prohibitions.’
The answer also says that the use of human embryonic stem cells as an alternative method of testing to using animals would be obligatory if it was recognised as an alternative testing method by EU legislation.
It seeks to reassure by saying, ‘No such legislation exists, nor is its adoption to be expected in the light of the above considerations.’ But Article 13.1 explicitly envisages legislation recognising alternative methods of testing. And the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods is part of the European Commission as may be seen from its website.
The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, however, point out in their Press Release that in the European Commission’s own Alternative Testing Strategies – Progress Report 2009, which discusses the alternative testing strategies that are currently being developed, 5 of the 21 new methods involve the use of human embryonic stem cells obtained by deliberately destroying human embryos.
Furthermore, the Press Release points out that these new technologies based on destroying human embryos have been financially supported by the EU through the 6th and 7th Framework Research Programmes.
The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community had asked for an amendment to be introduced into the revised Directive that would have excluded human embryonic stem cells testing from the alternative testing methods, but the European Parliament did not make any such amendment.
Watch a 16 minute documentary about the Directive including Johanna Touzel’s critical response to the Directive here
Access the text of the Revised Directive 86/609/EEC here
Access the Alternative Testing Strategies – Progress Report 2009 here
Read the Press Release of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences here
View Questions and answers on the new directive for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, MEMO/10/398, Brussels, 9th September 2010 here