Stem cell research in Brüstle

Who would have thought 60 years ago that the Court of Justice would rule on matters of life and death? In Brüstle (Case C-34/10, Brüstle v. Greenpeace) the Court had to answer questions about the patentability of stem cells derived from human embryos for medical applications (Parkinson’s disease). A German Court had made a preliminary reference to the Court in a procedure between Brüstle and Greenpeace on the interpretation of Directive 98/44/EC.

The Court was pretty cautious in its approach:

 34      The context and aim of the Directive thus show that the European Union legislature intended to exclude any possibility of patentability where respect for human dignity could thereby be affected. It follows that the concept of ‘human embryo’ within the meaning of Article 6(2)(c) of the Directive must be understood in a wide sense.

35      Accordingly, any human ovum must, as soon as fertilised, be regarded as a ‘human embryo’ within the meaning and for the purposes of the application of Article 6(2)(c) of the Directive, since that fertilisation is such as to commence the process of development of a human being.

This led the Court to decide that Mr Brüstle research could not be patented: not in Germany, nor in the rest of the EU. Not surprisingly, scientists in the EU are not very happy about the outcome.