German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said that the country's laws restricting research on human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) should be loosened. Currently, German scientists can work on imported ES cell lines, but cannot create ES cells for research. According to a recent survey, reported by the newspaper Deutsche Welle, 40.6 per cent of Germans are in favour of easing these rules, while 28 per cent are opposed to such a move and the rest are undecided.
Schroeder made his remarks after receiving an honorary Biology doctorate from the University of Gottingen last week. He called for 'research without fetters but not without borders', and said 'we must not uncouple ourselves from progress in international research in biological and genetic technology'. He said that with Germany's existing law, 'we put ourselves on the side of the more restrictive countries, by European and international standards'. Although Schroeder has previously expressed his support for liberalising the legislation on ES cells, this is apparently the first time he has done so publicly.
All forms of human cloning have been prohibited in Germany since the Embryo Protection Act of 1991. German scientists can undertake research on imported ES cell lines, according to a law passed in 2002, but they cannot create ES cell lines and cannot clone human embryos for research purposes. In September 2004, Germany's National Ethics Council (NEC) called on the government to reconsider national laws on cloning for research purposes. All 25 members are opposed to the use of cloning for reproductive purposes, but are divided on the use of cloning in ES cell research - often known as therapeutic cloning.
Politicians from the opposition Christian Democrat party and the Social Democrat's junior coalition partner, the Green party, criticised the chancellor's remarks. Christian Democrat politician Thomas Rachel said the right to life of an embryo must be respected despite the scientific and economic successes that stem cell research promises. Green party parliamentarian Volker Beck called the use of embryos for ES cell research 'veiled cannabilism', and said it must remain banned. But Schroeder, in his speech, queried what Germany would do if research elsewhere led to new treatments for incurable diseases. 'Would we seriously want to ban the import of such medicine?' he asked.
Sources and References
Schroeder Wants Stem Cell Laws Eased
Schroeder says Germany should ease stem cell curbs