— Albert Gedraitis
Orthodoxy Today.org (Nov14,2k12)
A European Victory
for Ethical Stem Cell Research
for Ethical Stem Cell Research
Remember the constant outcry against President George W. Bush’s embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) federal funding restrictions? Even though his administration issued more than $600 million in NIH grants for human ESCR, and much more than that for animal studies, Bush was castigated widely for preventing selfless scientists from creating a robust regenerative medical sector that, the critics claimed, possessed virtually unlimited potential to ameliorate suffering and cure disease.
Life isn’t that simple. To be sure, ESCR scientists do want to find efficacious treatments. But ESCR scientists also want to get rich—which is why academics often create start-up biotech companies or partner with industry before publishing their experimental findings. But in order to hit the financial jackpot, researchers and biotech companies need patent protection for the processes and products they develop in the lab. Otherwise, they could invest millions, and years of effort for the research, only to have someone else copy and market the product without risking a plug nickel.
1. The definition of the embryo: Some have redefined the embryo as coming into being only after implantation in the uterus, rather than the proper embryological understanding as beginning upon completion of fertilization. The EU court rejected this view out of hand, ruling, “respect for human dignity” requires the conclusion that “any human ovum, must, as soon as fertilized, be regarded as a ‘human embryo’ . . . since that fertilization is such as to commence the process of development of a human being.”
2. Scientific research qualifies as “industrial or commercial purposes”: Who can deny that one major purpose of ESCR is commercial gain? Any time there is a research breakthrough or setback, the business press immediately focuses on whether stock values of the affected company will be impacted. The court saw the connection and ruled, “the exclusion from patentability concerning the use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes also covers the use of human embryos for purposes of scientific research.” The patent law does not regulate research parameters, but it does prevent any cells or other biological material derived from destroying human embryos from being patented.
3. Medical products derived from ESCR also are not patentable: The fact that the ultimate product may not consist of embryonic stem cells doesn’t make these substances any more patentable than an embryo or embryonic stem cell. “Where it concerns a product whose production necessitates the prior destruction of human embryos or a process for [sic] which requires a base material obtained by destruction of human embryos” the patent protection is unavailable under EU law.Venture capitalists now may be unlikely to put significant money into the development of ES cell-derived products that cannot be protected from copying or imitating. The same goes for human cloning research since the ruling explicitly included somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). The ruling also boosts normal adult stem cell research and induced pluripotent stem cell experiments—in which a skin cell can be reprogrammed into a stem cell—because they and products derived from these sources can be patented in Europe. American companies are not affected directly by the ruling. But they could still be materially impacted if they seek to sell their ESC-derived products in countries where the ruling applies.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.
Reference for a preliminary ruling from the Bundesgerichtshof (Germany) lodged on 21 January 2010 — Prof. Dr. Oliver Brüstle v Greenpeace e.V
Read the entire article on the First Things website (new window will open).