BRUSSELS, Belgium - Commission President Romano Prodi said he intends to strengthen the status of the European Union's ethics advisory group, which recently produced a major report on stem cell technology, and also has reported on embryo research and a range of other biotechnology-related subjects over recent years.

The group is working on an additional opinion on the ethical issues linked to the conditions for the patenting of inventions that deal with stem cells, which it aims to release within weeks.

Prodi said, however, it is important to preserve "its independence, its multidisciplined nature and its open working methods." That will mean giving the group a firmer legal basis than it now has under European law. Prodi has promised to make formal proposals by the end of the year.

¿ The Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community has become involved in the debate over what it terms "responsible biomedical research."

Because of the rapid developments in the field of biomedicine, and the regulatory work under way in EU institutions, the bishops have drawn attention to "delicate issues that touch upon the essence of human dignity."

Cardinal Thomas Winning, Archbishop of Glasgow, said, "The church delights in the progress of humanity in many areas," but insisted that in the current debate on the use of stem cell research: "What is forgotten is that, in order to obtain these cells, you have to create human embryos in vitro from which you remove the cells and throw away the embryo. This method is not only unacceptable because it reduces the human embryo to the status of a simple object of experimentation, but it also puts an obstacle in the path of more advanced research into the possibilities offered by adult stem cells, which, without posing the same ethical problem, could prove to be just as promising for certain diseases, but which would require perhaps greater financial investment."