European court bars patents on human embryos
CWN - October 19, 2011
The European Court of Justice has ruled that patents cannot be granted for medical research that involves the destruction of human embryos.
The unanimous decision in the case of Oliver Brüstle v. Greenpeace was warmly applauded by Church leaders in Europe, while proponents of embryonic stem-cell research complained that it would interfere with medical progress.
The court ruled that patents could not be granted because the deliberation destruction of human embryos is “contrary to morality,” and European law prohibits patents for inventions based on immoral practices. The decision was based on a find that a human embryo is a developing human being, and is therefore due the protection that is accorded to human life.
The council of episcopal conferences of the European Union (COMECE) noted that the court’s decision “provides a broad, scientific sound definition of a human embryo.” COMECE welcomed the likelihood that the ban on patents for embryonic stem-cell research would open the doors to further research on stem cells derived from other sources.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano applauded the decision, providing a brief summary of the court’s key finding:
The ruling is subtle but clear. It affirms that a patent is possible on the use of human embryos if the invention has diagnostic or therapeutic aims with regard to the embryo in question. On the contrary, it cannot be the object of a patent if its use is aimed at scientific research. Moreover, the Court specifies that the procedures which allow for the extraction of human embryonic stem cells in their blastocyst stage – five days after fertilization – and bring about their destruction cannot be patented. In conclusion, the Court has not intervened on the possible creation and subsequent suppression of human embryos, but banning the patents places an important bulwark against these procedures.
Advocates of embryonic stem-cell research bitterly criticized the court’s ruling, saying that it would block the development of promising treatments for a number of diseases. To date, however, embryonic stem-cell treatments have not been shown effective in treating any disease.
The European court’s ruling does not apply to the United States, where patents have already been granted to dozens of lines of stem cells derived from human embryos. So the advocates of stem-cell research may redouble their efforts to secure American government funding.
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