24 July 2007
The German National Ethics Council, an independent body that acts as a national forum for the discussion of ethical issues in the life sciences, has recommended changes to German legislation that would lighten current restrictions for stem cell research. The current law is more restrictive than that of most European countries, banning the production of human embryonic stem cells from stem cell lines established after January 2002. Germany typically takes bioethical issues very seriously, but there is growing concern that they are being left behind by other countries in the area of stem cell research.
Fourteen of the 24 members of the NEC voted in favour of changes that would abolish this cut-off date and replace it with an authority that should assess and rule on each research application individually, as well as repealing the criminal provisions of the current Stem Cell Law. They propose that the use of embryonic stem cells should be permissible for both research and also for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. However, the recommendations for amendments to the law remain relatively conservative by European standards; for example, they state that imports of embryonic stem cells should only be permitted where “obtained from universally accessible stem cell banks on a non-profit basis” (see press release), to prevent German researchers from supporting commercial production of stem cells in other countries.