What is an embryo?
May 1, 2011 8:50 AM Subscribe
posted by Skeptic (45 comments total)
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Art. 6(2)(c) of Directive 98/44/EC
, passed by the EU Parliament and Council back in 1998, ruled that, among other things, "uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial
purposes" were to be considered unpatentable because of their being contrary to "ordre public" or morality. After German researcher Prof. Dr. Oliver Bruestle
was granted a patent
concerning a method for creating nerve precursor cells on the basis of embryonic stem cells, Greenpeace Germany
(in German) filed a lawsuit for annulment of the patent. The German Federal Court of Justice then referred to the European Court of Justice the question of whether embryonic stem cell therapy constitutes such a use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes, under Directive 98/44/EC.
In a preliminary, non-binding opinion
, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice proposes that the Court rules that an invention must be excluded from patentability where the application of the technical process for which the patent is filed "necessitates the prior destruction of human embryos or their use as base material, even if the description of that process does not contain any reference to the use of human embryos". While the opinions of the Advocate General are not binding on the Court, they are followed in 80% of cases. A group of leading scientists has expressed its dismay at the Advocate General's opinion in an open letter
. This has received major media coverage
While these opponents concentrate on the impact of the ruling on the burgeoning European (and especially British) biotech industry, and on the danger of officially labelling embryonic stem cell therapies as "immoral", the nub of the Advocate General's opinion hinges on the not-so-straightforward question: "what is an embryo"?