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Susan Roylance: European court recognizes human life from the moment of conception

Published: Thursday, Oct. 27 2011 4:01 p.m. MDT

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“When does human life begin?” That question was answered in a European court of justice this week (Oct. 19). The judgement (Brustle vs. Greenpeace) recognizes the beginning of human life at “all stages of the development of human life, beginning with the fertilization of the ovum.”

The matter before the court was related to a German patent held by Oliver Brustle for the use of embryonic stem cells in research directed toward treating neurological diseases.

The judgement answered the question, “What is meant by the term 'human embryos?' ... Does it include all stages of the development of human life, beginning with the fertilization of the ovum, or must further requirements, such as the attainment of a certain stage of development, be satisfied?”

The court recognized that any human ovum, as soon as it is fertilized (the moment of conception), is an organism “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being.” This excludes the patentability of research using human embryos for “industrial or commercial purposes” or “for purposes of scientific research.”

The decision was declared “A tremendous pro-life victory” in an article by J.C. von Krempach, J.D., which is an online legal analysis in “Turtle Bay and Beyond.” However, the article also states that “Oliver Brustle, the stem cell researcher of Bonn University whose patent claim had been at the origin of the legal dispute, lamented that ‘with this judgment, embryonic stem cell research is out of business’ and warned that cutting-edge biotechnical research would from now on take place elsewhere, but not anymore in Europe.”

The judgement declares that it is "binding the European Union and/or the memberstates.” Essentially, within the European Union, an invention is excluded from being patented when the process requires either the prior destruction of human embryos or their use as a base material. (See analysis by Gregor Puppinck, Ph.D.)

"It is very much to be regretted that the court has taken this view," said Sir Ian Wilmut from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh. "It will unfortunately make it less likely that companies in Europe will invest in the research to develop treatments to use embryonic stem cells for treatment of human diseases."

Yesterday (Oct. 26), Anna Zaborska, a member of European Parliament, discussed the “Luxemburg Judgement” regarding the beginning of human life, and also presented the San Jose Articles, which state that, “As a matter of scientific fact, a new human life begins at conception.” (See previous blog on the San Jose Articles.)

Zaborska urged the European Parliament, and those representing the E.U. at the U.N., to recognize the life of future citizens from the moment of conception in future negotiations.

Susan Roylance is the international policy and social development coordinator for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.