BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE EUROPEAN Union has followed the example of the United States by banning the public funding of destructive research on human embryos.
A total ban has been imposed on the use of European funds for human reproductive cloning as well as the creation of human embryos for research purposes or the creation of stem cells.
The Council of Ministers has also adopted a one-year moratorium on research with human embyros and human embryonic stem cells, excluding those already banked in laboratories.
The move, which mirrors US President George W Bush's decision last year, represents a blow for the United Kingdom and Sweden at the hands of Germany, Austria, Italy, Iitland, Spain and Portugal.
At their meeting, the Ministers approved an aid programme for research, which included grants amounting to 175 million euros (£12 million) for 20022006. Denmark, holding the EU presidency, proposed the moratorium to resolve the impasse that divided 15 member states.
The UK and Sweden sought public funds for embryonic research but most countries wanted clear ethical norms before money was allocated.
The decision will not affect domestic policy of the UK and Sweden because it allows for the funding of national research with embryonic stem cells that are already isolated and kept in cell banks. However, any future projects involving human embryos may be regulated following the findings of an EU ethical review.
The EU will return to the issue next spring when the European Commission will produce a report and convoke a seminar for September 2003.
Pro-life groups welcomed the stance taken by Europe in the meantime. Josephine Quintavalle of Britain's ProLife Affiance said: "Far from leading the field in biotechnology as Tony Blair is so happy to claim, the UK may find that lack of European funding forces our country to adopt an ethical rather than libertarian stance, if it is to compete successfully in the European market "A one-year moratorium on stem cell research is less than we would have liked, but this is nevertheless very good news from the EU and a clear slap in the face for the UK. We now look forward to our ProLife Alliance Appeal, to be heard in the House of Lords in the New Year [on the definition of the cloned embryo], and which we trust will consolidate the illegality of human cloning."
Carlo Casini of Italy's ProLife Movement said: "The fact that the funding remained subordinated to the holding of a seminar of European institutions on bioethics is positive."
But he said it was worrying that the EC "anticipating the results of the seminar, announced a proposal that sets the guidelines for community funding" of human embryonic stem cell projects.
He said: "If Europe would like to be consistent with its history and rational soul, the first ethical duty should be to ask oneself if, at the beginning of his existence, man can be considered as something that can be destroyed.
"The answer to this is the indispensable assumption needed to make decisions on experimentation with embryos. In fact, if the embryo is a person and not a thing, he/she cannot be treated as a means to attain other ends, even if they are noble."
Efforts to regulate cloning advanced at the United Nations when Spain and the USA proposed a moratorium that said pending an international convention on human cloning "states shall not permit any research, experiment, development or application in their territories or areas under their jurisdiction or control of any technique aimed at human cloning".
The proposal, which will be considered next week, has the support of 28 countries, including the Holy See, Italy and Poland. The idea for a convention came from France and Germany and seeks a ban solely on "reproductive" cloning, but does not forbid the cloning of human embryos for destructive research. It is supported by about 40 countries, including the UK, Belgium, Canada, China, Norway and Sweden.