Europe is divided on embryo regulations

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 31 August 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:512

Widespread differences exist across Europe in the regulations covering research on and the storage and donation of embryos, according to a report sponsored by the European Commission which was published this summer. The differences are so great that consensus is unlikely when the European Council votes on human fertilisation and embryology as part of its bioethics convention next month.

The differences were highlighted when nearly 4000 human embryos were destroyed in Britain three weeks ago, to comply with the five year storage deadline. Impassioned debate followed in the national and international press.

In the report Ethics, Law and Practice in Human Embryology, Professor Linda Nielsen, one of the authors, concludes there are “serious incompatibilities between member states.” Professor Nielsen, associate professor of law at the University of Copenhagen, identifies four main legal approaches across Europe to the storage and use of embryos, which she calls “prohibitive,” “cautious regulatory,” “liberal regulatory,” and “laissez faire.”

Germany typifies the prohibitive approach. Its embryo protection act of 1990 forms part of the criminal law, and several practices legal elsewhere in Europe are punishable by imprisonment in …

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