Europe's highest court ruled today that it's not legal for companies to patent any sort of research method that requires the destruction of human embryos. Christian groups are super psyched about this because God says cellbabies are exactly the same as grown up humans with faces and feelings. Scientists are upset because they say that this will drive research away from Europe. People who will end up dying of diseases that could have been cured using methods discovered through stem cell research could not be reached for comment.
The original lawsuit was filed to challenge a 1997 patent filed by a German scientist regarding a process that turned stem cells into nerve cells. Greenpeace (of all organizations) objected to the notion that someone could hold the patent on a process that involves the destruction of human stem cells, and an official from the organization remarked after the ruling that it was important that the court valued ethics over profits. It was escalated twice in the court system before reaching the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Stem cell research has yielded new treatments for everything from common birth defects and deafness to providing tissue for burn victims to aiding in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Research involving stem cells takes place during the blastocyst stage, during which the human embryonic tissue contains between 80 and 100 cells, and results in the destruction of that embryonic tissue. Eggs used in the process are left over from fertility treatments and donated to research facilities and would likely be destroyed, anyway, and cell lines derived from embryonic stem cells can be used for long periods of time and don't need to be constantly renewed. They're also much more flexible than adult stem cells.
Still, critics — including the Catholic Church and other religious organizations as well as those nutty Greenpeace hippies — contend that using embryonic stem cells is against human dignity. And now, thanks to today's ruling, those donated embryos will likely be destroyed, anyway, in what we can only assume is in a way that fills each cell with a strong feeling of dignity. You'll never see a prouder cluster of emotionless cells than the ones that will now not be used for research.
On the plus side, this is our chance, America! We've got a golden opportunity to build a global center for stem cell research here! For the lost generation to pick up the reins of innovation from their industrial forebears and move our economy into the next century and beyond! Too bad we suck at science.
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