SciencePunk

This entry is part of the Science and the European Election series, a collaboration between SciencePunk and the Lay Scientist blog to encourage public discussion of the science policies of the major parties standing at the forthcoming European elections.

It has been said that there are serious incompatibilities between member states on regulations governing stem cell research. How will you work to resolve these differences?


Tim Worstall, UKIP:

We wouldn’t work to resolve such differences. The balancing of moral issues involved in something like embryonic stem cell research is properly a matter for the national electorates and their different views upon and conceptions of such morals. We wouldn’t expect such rules to be the same in a religious and/or Catholic society as they might be in a non-religious or more Protestant society. And of course across the 27 countries that make up the EU there are indeed such differences.

Scott Redding, the Green Party:

The Green Party believes that experiments on human embryos could have unforeseen outcomes harmful both to individuals and to society. We would work for an immediate international ban on all cloning and genetic manipulation of embryos, whether for research, therapeutic or reproductive purposes. We do think that the use of ‘adult’ (or ‘mature’) stem-cells has promise for both research and therapeutic purposes and does not involve the same risks and ethical issues as embryonic stem-calls. The Green Party would work to allow the use across the EU of adult stem-cells, subject to the precautionary principle.

Euan Roddin, the Liberal Democrats:

In the UK we have an excellent stem cell research programme conducted within a clear ethical framework. Countries that want to carry out stem cell research should be able to and I would like to see the use of Framework Programme money for stem cell research. But those of us who support stem cell research have to accept that not everyone else feels the same way and that for some people this is a matter of conscience. If we cannot get agreement on a EU-wide approach then we need to be prepared to carry on with research at a national level.

Laura Hughes, the Department of Health (via the Labour Press Office):

We acknowledge that there are irregularities in European Union (EU) stem
cell research relating to the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) – where different EU states have differing regulatory positions reflecting religious/societal views.

Numerous activities are in place to ensure information exchange and transparency; eg. through the Medical Research Council chaired International Stem Cell Forum which has membership from most EU government funding agencies, the International Stem Cell Forum cell banking and ethics working party initiatives, the EC-funded hESC Registry project and the European Science Foundation.

While differences across the EU create some barriers to collaborative
effort (though it should be noted that the EC funds several EU-wide
consortia in the stem cell area, often UK-led), there is no real evidence
that this situation is harmful to UK stem cell research – indeed the UK’s
legislative framework makes the UK an attractive place to recruit EU-based
scientists and for international collaboration outside the EU.

The nature of what is an acceptable pursuit of science varies from person to person, and even more so between different cultures, nations and religions. So coming to agreement on issues such as stem cell research is a potential minefield for MEPs. I was surprised to discover the level of opposition toward the use of embryonic stem cells in the Green Party, which is poorly explained by vague descriptions of “unforeseen outcomes harmful to individuals and to society”. Furthermore, Scott Redding did not describe what the “risks” associated with using embryonic stem cells were and how using adult stem cells would reduce these. Notwithstanding a reply from the Department of Health, only Euan Roddin at the Lib Dems grasped the implications of these differing attitudes across Europe. The Framework Programme distributes billions in funding, but if we can’t agree on what that money should be spent on, research (and its funding) becomes nationalised, staying within our own borders. That wouldn’t be good for science. It’s a difficult problem, and there might not be a clear answer. If you were an MEP, what would you do?