Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

German lawmakers vote to loosen limits on embryonic stem cell imports

German lawmakers vote to loosen limits on embryonic stem cell imports

German lawmakers voted Friday to loosen slightly a 2002 law that imposes strict limits on the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research, enabling scientists to import newer stem-cell lines.
Following a debate that cut across party lines, the lower house of parliament approved the change by a 346-228 margin, with six abstentions.
The existing law bans the creation of embryonic stem cells in Germany purely for research purposes, but allows stem cells produced abroad before Jan. 1, 2002, to be imported for use in projects of "overwhelming significance" where no other research method can be used.
Under the change approved Friday, the deadline is being shifted forward by more than five years to May 1, 2007. Researchers had argued that cells produced before 2002 are now unusable and they required access to more recently produced cells for their efforts to understand diseases.
Research Minister Annette Schavan, Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries and Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those who advocated the change.
The proposal beat out a series of rival plans. One group of lawmakers favored keeping the existing rules; smaller groups advocated scrapping the limit entirely or banning research with embryonic stem cells altogether. Both of those proposals were shot down, with support from fewer than 130 lawmakers each.
Experimentation with embryonic stem cells is disputed because they come from embryos destined to be discarded after test-tube fertilization.
Schavan, a conservative Roman Catholic, has insisted that moving the cutoff date forward would reflect rapid advances in technology _ with which Germany must keep pace to remain competitive _ rather than a liberalization.
She told lawmakers that the "smallest possible change" made sense.
"The move fits with the law's logic by enabling a further development that makes possible in future the narrow corridor (for research) that we wanted" when the 2002 law was passed, she said.
Maria Boehmer, a fellow conservative, backed keeping the law as it is. She argued that changing it would undermine the legislation's aim of curbing incentives for researchers abroad to produce new cells.
"Even if people stress again and again that this is a one-time shift, such a decision would be judged abroad as a signal that we are prepared to shift the ethical boundary if researchers demand it loudly enough," she said. "And that means creating incentives."
Justice Minister Zypries said that protecting embryos was important _ "but we also must respect researchers' right to freedom of research." She said politicians needed to be mindful of scientists' interest in furthering research on, for example, transplantation and fighting cancer.
Germany's Roman Catholic Church opposed loosening the law, but the country's Lutheran Church has backed moving forward the cutoff date if currently available stem-cell lines are insufficient.


Updated : 2021-10-27 05:54 GMT+08:00