Status of the embryo in Europe: overview

Publié le : 24 May 2013

 According to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine of 1997, the Council of Europe leaves it up to each Member State to legislate on the status of the human embryo. However, two rules must be followed: the States must adopt rules that ensure "appropriate protection" for the embryo if research on in-vitro embryos is authorised by the law; and the States must ban the creation of embryos for research. This framework remains quite broad and "does not specify if an embryo is a human being from its conception," thus leaving the possibility for researchers to use it for therapeutic or scientific purposes. 

Germany, Austria, Ireland, Hungary, Norway and Poland ban research on the embryo, but authorise "the creation of embryos for the purpose of reproduction" [MAP]. In Ireland, Hungary, and Poland, research on the human embryo is banned as "the life of the child is protected from conception," the journalist points out. Italy specifically prohibits "the creation of embryos for research and the scission of the embryo for therapeutic or research purposes," but nothing is said about cloning or the use of supernumerary embryos.        
In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, "research is generally authorised only on embryos of less than 14 weeks." And while in Spain research is authorised on supernumerary embryos, the legislation could change because in 2000, "the Law and Bioethics Observatory in Barcelona announced that it was in favour of the creation of embryos for research purposes," which would be against the Convention of 1997. In the Netherlands, a bill is being drawn up that would authorise research on supernumerary embryos but maintain the ban on the creation of embryos for research.       
The most permissive legislation is that of the United Kingdom, which authorises the use of supernumerary embryos and the creation of embryos for research in procreation or in diagnosing genetic diseases. Since 2001, therapeutic cloning (to obtain stem cells) is also authorised there. The same applies in Belgium which likewise authorises the creation of human embryos for research if the motives are "duly justified", as well as obtaining stem cells from embryos.

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