The European Union's decision to continue funding stem cell research amounted to a compromise, after the bloc was able to overcome opposition from Germany along with six other mostly Roman Catholic member states. Under the compromise, EU funds would not be used to pay for research activities that aimed to destroy human embryos. Funding could be used for other parts of the stem-cell research process.
In addition, the EU will not bankroll research aimed at cloning humans or at modifying their genetic heritage. Overall, Finnish Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen said at a news conference in Brussels, funding for stem-cell research would be subject to tight rules and guidelines.
Pekkarinen - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency - said that so far the EU has approved nine stem-cell research projects. "If we talk about nine projects, none of the projects is devoted only to human embryonic cell research. But they are part of that project (stem-cell research). Since they are part of that project, of course, they have to go through a whole series of checks," he said.
According to Pekkarinen, funding for stem cell research amounts to less than half of one percent of the union's health budget. But that money nonetheless remains controversial. The seven EU members opposed to the research funding, which include Poland, Malta, Austria and Italy among others, had hoped to gather enough support to block the research funding altogether,
Opponents of the embryo research argue that human life begins at conception, and therefore must be preserved from the start. Supporters argue life begins later, and that human embryo research is vital for developing cures for key diseases.