Roman Catholic bishops in Europe have said they welcome the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to ban the patenting of scientific techniques that use stem cells derived from human embryo.
In the case of Oliver Brüstle v Greenpeace, the ECJ, according to BBC, decided, on Tuesday, that patents would be allowed if they involved therapeutic or diagnostic techniques that are useful to the embryo itself. The ECJ, in its judgment, said, "scientific research entailing the use of human embryos cannot access the protection of patent law."
According to Spero News, the Roman Catholic bishops of the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), said, "This judgement...provides a broad, scientific sound definition of a human embryo."
The bishops, according to Spero News, expressed approval of the court's legal interpretation and definition of the "concept of human embryo," saying,
"Indeed, fertilization marks the beginning of the biological existence of a human being that undergoes a process of development. Therefore the human embryo, at every stage of development, must be considered a human being with potential, and not just a “potential human being.”
The bishops described scientific procedures in which stem cells are removed from a human embryo at blastocyst stage as destructive of human life, and approved of the court's judgment that they cannot be patented.
The Catholic bishops said they hope that with the judgment, scientific research will now focus on alternatives which have so far been ignored. They suggested the use of adult stem cells and stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. These alternatives, the bishops said, provide "significant possibilities for regenerative medicine." The bishops hoped that exploring alternatives will encourage research which respect human life while providing efficient and innovative procedures in human medicine. The bishops described the judgment of the ECJ as,
"...a milestone in the protection of Human life in EU legislation, that will most likely have a positive impact in concrete Policy fields like the Funding of Research in the EU."
The ECJ, according to Spero News, had defined a "human embryo" as
— A human ovum, as soon as fertilized if that fertilization is such as to commence the process of development of a human being
— A non-fertilized human ovum into which the cell nucleus from a mature human cell has been transplanted..
— non-fertilized human ovum whose division and further development have been stimulated by parthenogenesis.
According to Time Healthland, many scientists are concerned the ECJ decision could slow down further developments in stem cell research. Peter Coffey, a stem cell researcher at University College London, said,
"This is a devastating decision which will stop stem cell therapies' use in medicine...The potential to treat disabling and life-threatening diseases using stem cells will not be realized in Europe."
Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated cells derived from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst in early-stage embryo. Removing the inner cell mass (ICM) of a fertilized human embryo destroys the embryo, a this has moral and ethical debates on stem cell research.