BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Commission President Romano Prodi wants the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to consider "all the ethical issues relating to the patentability of inventions" resulting from stem cell research. And he wants it to appear "before the end of the year."

He said he is concerned about "the question of patents on biotechnological inventions as an illustration of the conflict between the values of society and the demands of the market. The delicate issue of research into human stem cells is a promising avenue for research, but raises many ethical questions."

To underline his concerns, Prodi attended the Oct. 18 meeting of the group at the Commission's Brussels headquarters. The ethics group already is examining stem cell research and is planning to finalize its opinion by Nov. 14. But Prodi has now given it an additional task, to assess the specific questions relating to intellectual property protection. At the meeting of the group, he took the opportunity to underline "the importance of ethics in science and technology as an integral part of the process of building a democratic Europe."

The Commission president also said he intended to boost the status of the ethics group. But he was careful to stress that he had no intention of altering its independence, its multidisciplinary character, or its openness to all schools of thought in European society. Detailed arrangements will be worked out when the group's remit is renewed at the end of 2000.

The group is chaired by Noklle Lenoir of France and includes eleven other independent members. It serves in an advisory role to the Commission and, on occasions, to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.

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