Germany Lifts Embryo Research Restrictions

Fri Apr 11, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

BERLIN, April 11, 2008 ( ) - The German government has voted to remove restrictions on the use of human embryos in stem cell research. Under current law, German researchers are only allowed to use human embryonic stem cells harvested abroad before January 2002, but today the Bundestag (lower house) decided by a 346-228 vote to move the cut-off date to May 2007.

German Research Minister Annette Schavan, a Roman Catholic, justified the change saying that it is the only way for Germany’s researchers to remain competitive.

Last July the German National Ethics Council narrowly approved the change in a 14-10 vote.

The 2002 law was passed in an effort to discourage foreign laboratories from making and marketing embryonic stem-cell lines to German scientists. However, Germany has been under heavy pressure from the research community and from the European Union to abolish the 2002 cut-off date.

Germany has been one of the few voices at the EU opposed to further funding for embryo research, together with Malta, Austria, Italy, Poland and Slovakia.

Meanwhile, recent polls show that Germany’s historic opposition to the use of living human beings in research, a lesson deeply ingrained in the German public by memories of the Holocaust and the eugenics movement, is still strong and is increasing.

An opinion poll in January showed that at the start of 2008, 61 percent supported using only adult or iPS stem cells ("induced pluripotent stem" cells derived from ordinary cells), up from 56.3 per cent in 2007. 65.2 per cent support the existing ban on destructive embryo research.

Read related coverage:

Germans Overwhelmingly Oppose Embryo Research

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