In the Netherlands, embryo culture is now only allowed for pregnancy treatments, such as IVF treatments. Any surplus embryos – the embryos that remain after IVF – can be used for research. But the reproduction of embryos, for purely scientific purposes, is prohibited.
The ChristenUnie in particular strongly opposes the cultivation of embryos for research. This Christian party considers each embryo, even shortly after fertilization, as a living being. It is against the party to cultivate it only for research purposes and then destroy it.
This leads to the frustration of many doctors. Clinical embryologist Sebastiaan Mastenbroek is one of them. “Yes, it’s very frustrating. We believe there are opportunities now to make treatments safer, more effective and more effective.”
Early human development
He cites his own daily practice as an example. Only one out of three IVF treatments is now successful, says Mastenbroek – that is to say: only one out of three treatments results in a pregnancy. Mastenbroek would like to increase this percentage, but real research is currently difficult. Only surplus embryos, which remain after IVF treatments and are donated, or embryos from mouse stem cells, can now be used for this purpose.
“We do research every day to improve our treatments and understand very early human development. But some questions you can’t answer without also studying this very early embryonic development, the first few days after fertilization. And that’s not really possible,” he added. said Mastenbroek.
Politicians have been talking about a possible amendment to the law for years, but have taken no action. Christian parties in several successive cabinets have blocked a change.
The faction chairmen of the government parties VVD and D66 have now joined forces to ensure that the requested search space is offered.
Sophie Hermans, leader of the VVD party: “Why do I think it is important? Because it allows us to improve our medical research, aimed at our health for all. We can use it to obtain information on development from the very first days of embryos and this information is extremely important, our care is improving, we are getting all kinds of important information for better treatments.
And, says Hermans, “Because we enshrine it in law, we prevent it from being abused.”
“There is room”
The embryo law has not been changed since 2002, says D66 party chairman Jan Paternotte. “The successive cabinets always had a reason not to do it, not to make it possible. Now the space is there, so we want to prepare a law with the VVD.”
After a period of stagnation, medico-ethical topics are back on the agenda under this government mandate. After almost no discussion about it in previous cabinets under the leadership of the Christian parties, this coalition agreement left more room for the parties’ own considerations.
‘cluster of cells’
But the ChristenUnie in particular strongly opposes it. The scientific office of the CDA had previously advised to before the law change, but the faction in the House of Representatives doesn’t seem that far off yet. Precisely because this issue is so sensitive, it has been agreed that the amendment can be prepared now, but will not be discussed in the House of Representatives until a next term.
Mastenbroek points out that the embryos have obviously not yet developed into a fetus during the first days after fertilization. “We’re not talking about a fetus, so something with a head and arms and legs. It will come weeks later. It’s the very first embryos, it’s a clump of a few cells .”
He understands the concerns that exist, but explains: “It is not true that researchers will soon be allowed to do everything at once. Each research is tested in the Netherlands to see if it complies with the legislation and if the use of these embryos outweighs the scientific interest.”
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