BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Financial support should not be banned for human embryo research, said the European Commission's advisory group on ethics in science and new technologies. The high-level group of independent experts delivered its opinion Nov. 23, after the European Commission had asked it to review the European Parliament's call for any research leading to the destruction of the human embryo to be excluded from European Union (EU) research funding programs.

The panel said it recognizes that, apart from infertility treatments, valuable work is done in areas including diagnosis of genetic and chromosomal defects, as well as in the production of embryonic stem cells.

However, any such research must respect strict legal and ethical principles if it is to receive EU funding, the group's opinion went on. It is necessary to "respect the pluralism of cultures and ethical approaches in Europe," but such respect "does not justify a laissez-faire attitude." All projects seeking EU funding must meet all national legal requirements, and gain approval from an ethics committee. They must also respect fundamental ethical principles, such as respect for human life, while honoring the principle of consent of the donor woman or couple.

At present, this type of research is totally forbidden by law in Germany, Austria and Ireland, and partially in France. But in Denmark, the U.K. and Sweden it is allowed under certain conditions. The Netherlands and Belgium are currently reviewing their legislation. The group's opinion notes the need for "respect of pluralism of cultures and ethical approaches in Europe," and the "extreme diversity of national regulations."

Still, it recommends that all human embryo research be placed under strict state control, with maximal transparency as a guarantee against "arbitrary experimentation." Projects seeking EU funding should be assessed by an independent ethical committee, as well as by scientific experts, the panel said, and a global review should take place of research projects in this area. *