German Parliament reviews stem cell lawFriday, 15 February, 2008
Germany only formed their Stem Cell Act in 2002, but already the German Research Foundation is calling for a loosening of restrictions. For background, the 1990 Embryo Protection Act forbids the production of human embryonic stem cell lines, as it makes anything other than assisted reproductive technology to be an ‘improper use’ of an embryo. Section 2, part 1 reads:
“Anyone who disposes of, or hands over or acquires or uses for a purpose not serving its preservation, a human embryo produced outside the body, or removed from a woman before the completion of implantation in the uterus, will be punished with imprisonment up to three years or a fine.”
Yes, this is restrictive, but one may notice there was a little loophole if a researcher imported, from other countries where the research is legal, embryonic stem cells (rather than human embryos themselves). So, the Stem Cell Act effectively closed this up, except for conditions stipulated in Section 6 (Approval). It’s too long to go through now, but basically the stem cells need to have been created before 2002 in another country, derived entirely from surplus IVF embryos, research purposes need to be very important and the whole process still has to be approved by a ‘competent agency’ (such as the Robert Koch Institute).
Yeah, I’d say they’re restrictive too, although an outright ban would not be unusual for a European country (e.g. Ireland, Austria, Denmark, France).
Back to the recent news, what scientists want to do is to be able to import embryonic stem cell lines created during or after 2002. That restriction was in place to ensure that new stem cell lines were not created for German use (or, as the pro-life camp sees things, to ensure that embryos were not destroyed by German orders).
Juergen Heschele of the University of Cologne said this:
“Now, scientists are significantly more careful about preparing and cultivating human embryonic cells, so it is internationally accepted that the newer cell lines are much better”
So, the German Stem Cell Act basically needs to be updated every year to permit the stem cell lines created the year before. However, if that was sure to happen, a cunning foreign agency could possibly create stem cell lines for the Germans and then cryonically preserve them for the next year. This is more-or-less what some members of Germany’s National Ethics Council wrote last year:
“… a change in the Jan. 1, 2002 cut-off date [stipulated by the Stem Cell Law] would essentially mean to endorse the destruction of embryos abroad and to profit from procedures which are banned [in Germany] by the Embryo Protection Law.”
So, I feel the Germans are set to debate this issue for a long time to come. I feel what really needs to happen is a change in the biopolitical zeitgeist (10 points for working a German loanword into a blog entry about Germany?) so that the Germans may see that embryo research is ethical. Maybe once some embryonic research produces a cure for diabetes, which no doubt costs Germany billions of Euros each year in medical and social impacts, they will change their mind.