A fight has erupted over the composition of an influential European ethics panel that advises the government on science and technology, with some arguing that new nominations were based on political and religious considerations, not ability or experience. Scientists also raised concerns that the increasingly conservative body may place new limits on research.
In late October, European Commission (EC) President José Manuel Barroso -- former Portuguese PM under a right-center government -- announced nine new members of the 15-member European Group on Ethics (EGE) in Science and New Technologies, an independent and multidisciplinary body that counsels the EC on policies and legislation. Five of the nine new members are practicing Roman Catholic activists, with little or no experience in science, a panel member -- who asked to be kept anonymous -- told
"Albeit respectable, religious convictions must not be mixed up with science," Jordi Camí, director of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, which will harbour a stem cell research center, told
New members include physician and pharmacologist Jozef Glasa from Bratislava, Vice-President of the European Federation of Catholic Medical Associations; Hille Haker, professor of moral philosophy at the University of Tubingen faculty of catholic theology, a member of Harvard Divinity School and a director of the Catholic journal of theology
The previous EGE panel, which expired last March, was made up of 4 scientists, 4 lawyers and 4 philosophers. Some of the EGE's opinions and reports addressed ethical aspects of patenting inventions involving human stem cells, clinical research in developing countries, genetic testing in the workplace, and umbilical cord banking. EGE opinions, which are directly reported to the EC President, are not legally binding. Still, earlier EGE reports have been taken into account in drawing up EC directives dealing with stem cell patents and genetically modified organisms, among others.
Yvon Englert, a gynecologist at the Free University of Brussels, was one of the board members not re-appointed this year. He told
"Politics and scientific research should be clearly separated," said Jordi Petriz, a researcher at the Barcelona Idibaps institute who noted he'd like to investigate therapeutic cloning. "I won't be surprised if this ultraconservative group [within EGE] fully opposes human embryo research and somatic cell nuclear transfer," he told
"My reaction is one of regret for an even greater move towards conservatism in the European Commission," Christine Mummer, an embryo researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology and the Interuniversity Cardiology Institute of the Netherlands in Utrecht, told
But EGE member Pere Puigdoménech at the Barcelona Molecular Biology Institute, one of only two active scientists left on the panel, told
The next two issues the EGE plans to discuss are nanomedicine and somatic nuclear transfer.