A controversial plan to let EU cash be used for medical research using human embryos was backed by Euro-MPs this afternoon.
If now approved by EU governments, the decision will end the current Europe-wide ban on any Brussels funded stem cell research.
The Strasbourg vote was in doubt until the last minute, with many MEPs out to block, on ethical or religious grounds, any use of EU money for such research. Staunch opposition came from Catholic countries such as Ireland, Austria, Italy and Germany.
But patients’ groups, representing hundreds of thousands of sufferers from chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, lobbied equally hard to lift the ban, insisting such research could hold the key to tackling a range of debilitating illnesses.
Labour Euro-MP Eryl McNally welcomed the decision to allow EU money to be used for stem cell research and said: “We have been working closely with patients’ groups and British bio-medical researchers, who lead the world in this research.
“This is not research done out of idle curiosity. It’s done with the aim of bringing hope to sufferers from some very serious diseases.
“It is acknowledged that there are differences of view in EU countries over the ethics of such research and some, including Germany, effectively ban it.”
Fellow Labour MEP David Bowe said no country was obliged to go ahead with stem cell research, and ethical issues were matters for national parliaments.
But today’s decision did pave the way for researchers to seek EU financial backing where appropriate, he said.
“The opponents of stem cell research were trying to impose their view on the whole of Europe, but today the European Parliament said it was wrong to try to impose one ethical view.
“Europe can’t be run as if it were a single state with a religious consensus. There is no ethical consensus in Europe,” he said.
Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg said the proposed new legislation would set quality and safety standards for the manipulation of tissues and cells, including those for use in the human body.
“Ultimately, it will be up to each member state to make the final decision whether to allow research of this nature at all. But those that do will be governed by the new European safety and quality requirements.”
He added: “Those who have opposed this measure on religious grounds should reflect on the wisdom of imposing their ethical views on the rest of Europe.
“This measure does not force anything upon national governments, but does give national governments the freedom to make their own choices in this complex area. Religion should play no role in inhibiting such policy making freedom.”