By Hilary White

MAINZ, January 23, 2008 ( – An opinion poll in Germany has shown strong public opposition to using human embryos as test subjects for research. Given Germany’s still painful past experiences with the eugenics movement, opposition remains high and is increasing with the advent late last year of new methods of creating embryo-like iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells from adult tissue.

The poll showed that at the start of 2008, 61 per cent supported using only adult or iPS stem cells, up from 56.3 per cent in 2007. 26.9 per cent support embryo research, down from 32.9 per cent last year. 65.2 per cent support the existing ban on destructive embryo research.

Meanwhile, Karl Cardinal Lehmann, the archbishop of Mainz, has broken with the ecumenical trend and publicly opposed Wolfgang Huber, the Chairman of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany, who attacked the Catholic position on embryo research. Lehmann is the highest representative of the Catholic Church in Germany and widely acknowledged to be the leader of the Church’s “liberal progressive” wing.

The dispute comes as the German government is considering relaxing the conditions under which it is legal to import embryonic stem cells into the country for research. In 2002, the German government voted to amend the Embryo Protection Act to allow the import of human embryo stem cells for research, but only those that had been “created in compliance with the laws of the country of origin before 1 January 2002”. A proposal is before legislators to change the cut-off date to allow imports of newer stem cell lines.

In an interview with the Essen newspaper, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, the Cardinal said the issue of the cut-off date was not of the essence. “It’s not about the date, but the conditions around it.”

“The embryonic stem cells involved can only be preserved if an embryo is killed. Given that the Catholic church, but not only us but also many scientists and ethicists, say that after the union of egg and sperm cells in the embryo a human being is formed, which has human dignity and a right to life, we see no basis for moral and legal nuances in protecting life. Therefore, we already opposed the idea when in 2002, the cut-off date was first established. We were clear on this from the beginning.”

When asked if his response to Wolfgang Huber would hurt relations between the churches, Cardinal Lehmann replied, “The ecumenical relationship is important, but it should not disguise a fundamental truth, namely, the right to life and the necessity of protecting the embryo from the beginning.”

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