The European Biomedicine Convention was opened for signature in April 1997. It has now been signed by 24 member states of the Council of Europe and ratified by three. To come into force it needs to be ratified by five countries of which four must be member states. Article 18 of the Convention addresses research on embryos in vitro. It forbids the creation of embryos for research and, where the law allows research, requires the adequate protection of the embryo. The term 'adequate protection' is ambiguous and is not defined. Only signatories who have law in force at the time of signature which is not in conformity with the Convention may have a reservation against this article. The creation of embryos for research is still necessary for the advancement of assisted reproduction techniques, for the understanding of human embryological development and for the development of preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Less than half of the countries of the European Union have relevant legislation and there is little consistency of approach. Of the signatories to the Convention, only three have legislation which may permit the creation of embryos for research, only six have any relevant legislation. This begs the question of how assisted reproduction techniques are to advance in those countries which prohibit research, or have signed the convention prior to legislation, without turning infertile couples themselves into the unwitting subjects of research or experimental therapy.