European Court of Justice ruling reaffirms the prohibition on the commercialization of human embryos starting at fertilization

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

European Court of Justice ruling reaffirms the prohibition on the commercialization of human embryos starting at fertilization

BRUSSELS — In a groundbreaking ruling made public yesterday (C-34/10, “Oliver Brüstle vs. Greenpeace”), the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice (“the Court”) held that the definition of a human embryo includes a fertilized egg, providing a clear and unprecedented legal framework in the area of research and bioethics that is binding on all 27 European Union (EU) Member States. In so doing, the Court strengthened the prohibition on the patenting of embryonic stem cell research.

In deciding the primary issue of the definition of human embryo, the Court found that “any human ovum after fertilisation, (…) constitute a ‘human embryo’ within the meaning of Article 6(2)(c) of the Directive [98/44/EC on Legal protection of biotechnological inventions].”

The humanity of embryos, although agreed on in the scientific community, has been the subject of a long dispute over the legality of the commercialization of research involving the destruction of embryos. Because fertilization is the defining point from which two merged gametes now constitute a human being, with full potential, the use of any embryonic material can never be commercialized, the Court reaffirmed.

The highest court in the EU legal system thus offered a clear interpretation of the EU Directive 98/44/EC , which forbids the commercialization of research based on human embryos.

The World Youth Alliance (WYA) has consistently called for an absolute rejection of any instrumentalization of the human person, as is the case in embryonic stem cell research. WYA applauds the Grand Chamber’s ruling and calls on its members to use this ruling in their efforts to continue to promote the dignity of the human person in the research field.

Marie-Caroline Leroux, WYA Europe Director, commented on the ruling: “The Court’s decision reaffirms that Europe’s highest authorities uphold the worth and principle of non-commercialization of the human person despite a long series of attempts by stem cell research supporters.” With respect to the clear definition of human embryos set forth by the Court, Leroux continued, “The ruling constitutes as law and, in effect, calls on researchers and political authorities to channel their efforts and funds toward adult stem cell research and other non-utilitarian alternatives.”

In a letter pertaining to a similar case sent to the European Patent Office (EPO) in October 2008, the World Youth Alliance President, at the time the European Director, Francois Jacob, stated, “Like many forms of exploitation today, the creation of embryonic stem cells (involving the destruction of a human being) commercializes the human body and (…) also poses the problem of exploiting women for their gametes, as countless eggs are required to conduct such procedures.” With the EPO decision back in 2009 and the European Court of Justice ruling yesterday (two fully distinct bodies), all legal attempts to force the commercialization of research engineering human persons, parts or cells have failed to date. The World Youth Alliance recognizes yesterday’s ruling as a landmark in line with its assertion that all human beings have invaluable worth and cannot be bought or sold at any price.


For more information:

Marie-Caroline Leroux, WYA Europe Director

Email: Phone: +32 2 732 7605 Website:

Read WYA Statement on the use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies.

About the organization:

The World Youth Alliance is a global coalition of young people dedicated to promoting the dignity of the human person in policy and culture and to building solidarity between young people of developing and developed nations. With approximately one million members from more than 160 countries, the World Youth Alliance is one of the biggest coalitions of young people worldwide. Regional offices are located in Brussels (Europe), Manila (Asia Pacific), Mexico City (Latin America), Nairobi (Africa), New York (North America and headquarters).