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Ambiguity of the Embryo Protection in the Human Rights and Biomedicine Convention: Experiences from the Nordic Countries

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Until 1998 research on in vitro human embryos concentrated on the issues related to assisted reproduction. The situation changed dramatically when the first scientific report on the laboratory culture of human embryonic stem cells was published. This scientific breakthrough with new therapeutic promises put human embryo into a new, more vulnerable position. Combined with creation of embryos via somatic cell nuclear transfer, it inveigles into mass production of embryos, first for scientific purposes, but later perhaps for the healing of people.

This article examines the efficacy of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine in protecting embryos in this new era of embryo research. The interpretative latitude of Article 18 of the Convention is demonstrated, and legislation in three Nordic countries with highly variable approach to embryo research regulation is analysed. I examine how this divergence is possible in the light of the Convention text. In the end, potential reasons for variation in regulation in the otherwise similar Nordic countries are discussed, as well as under what conditions harmonisation of regulation on embryo research, a highly value-charged matter, could be possible at the European level.

Affiliations: 1: Researcher of Medical Law & Biolaw, Department of Criminal Law, Procedural Law and General Jurisprudential Studies University of Helsinki, Finland

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