The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has written to MEPs expressing concern about proposed amendments to the European Directive on tissues and cells, due to be discussed in the European Parliament next week (15 – 18 December 2003). The proposals could restrict or even ban the creation of embryos for research or tissue transplantation. The Nuffield Council believes the amendments poses a real threat to stem cell research which offers the possibility of significant advances in healthcare. In a discussion paper, 'Stem cell therapy: the ethical issues', published in 2000, the Nuffield Council concluded that research into human stem cells has the potential to develop treatments for a variety of diseases and should be permitted with safeguards. Within the context of the UK, where research involving embryos has been authorised for specific purposes including infertility, contraception, congenital diseases and prenatal diagnosis, there was no moral reason not to allow additional research intended to develop therapies for others. Within Europe there are diverse attitudes to embryo research in general and the derivation of stem cells through therapeutic cloning in particular. Many countries have debated the ethical issues and some, like the UK, have decided that research on embryos, with appropriate legislation, can be morally justified. “The proposed amendments to the European Directive would severely limit this research. We believe that the creation of embryos using therapeutic cloning offers such significant potential medical benefits that the research must be allowed to continue,” said Dr Sandy Thomas, Director of the Nuffield Council.

Notes to Editors:

1. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body which examines ethical issues raised by developments in medicine and biology. Established in 1991, it is funded by The Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. 2. The Discussion Paper, Stem cell therapy: ethical issues, was published in April 2000. The full text is available to download at: