US-based International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCC) brought a case before the European Court of Justice after the UK rejected their patent application for embryonic stem cells. This brings attention to the divisive international debate over the definition of an embryo. Until now, the relevant directive excluded human embryos from being patented because they were derived from human eggs, and human cells cannot be patented. Though ISCCs stem cells are derived from human eggs, they argue that they could not develop into human beings because they are unfertilized.
Pedro Cruz Villalon, a top adviser to the European Court, wrote an opinion which suggested that researchers should be able to patent human stem cells if they come from an unfertilized egg since they cannot independently develop into embryos. Villalon noted in his opinion that the situation could change in the future if we find that unfertilized eggs can be altered to develop into human beings. The coming decision is likely to make waves internationally, as it attempts to answer the ongoing genetic question of what it is to be human, an unresolved controversy in Europe, the United States, and the Western World at large.