Germany debates use of recent embryonic stem cells

15th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Traumatized by its past, the country has agonized for years over the ethics of such science.

Berlin -- Germany's parliament debated whether to allow German laboratories to use stem cells from recently conceived human embryos for research.

Traumatized by grisly experiments on humans under the Nazis and influenced by its Christian churches, Germany has agonized for a decade about the ethics of using the cells. Six years ago it permitted their limited use.

Scientists have demanded an update to the law, which allowed use of cell lines obtained from non-German embryos before January 2002. They say these cells are now old and unreliable, and demand a new cut-off date, May 2007.

A conscience vote, with every party divided on the issue, is not due till the middle of next month. Analysts said it would be close, but a deadline update appeared likely.

Critics, who argue that a human life is sacrificed when an embryo is torn apart, have welcomed newly invented ways to reprogram adult stem cells to make them pluripotent, or capable of acting like embryonic cells.

But scientists said they still need embryonic cells to compare with these induced pluripotent cells.

The amendment is being demanded by 184 out of 613 deputies, supported by Science Minister Annette Schavan, who said during a four-hour debate that it was "ethically responsible."

Rene Roespel, a Social Democrat, advocated changing the date, saying this would effectively leave the old compromise in place.

A group of 129 oppose any change. Priska Hinz, Greens science spokeswoman, said claims that embryonic research would save lives had never been borne out. She said scientists could make do with adult cells and did not need a new law.

Germany's 69 Catholic bishops repeated Thursday their strict opposition to research on the embryonic cells.

DPA with Expatica

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