The United Kingdom joins Germany on the list of European countries allowing stem cells research, stepping onto what some fear is a slipperly slope to reproductive cloning.
Delicate ethical choices
British governmental backing for stem cell research has been strengthened by Thursday's controversial decision in the House of Lords, parliament's upper chamber.
A committee chaired by Richard Harries, the Church of England's Bishop of Oxford, ruled that human embryo cloning – a procedure that federally-funded academics in the United States are barred from performing – will be allowed to proceed under strict conditions.
The committee also gave the green light for British researchers to set up the world's first human embryo cell bank, Reuters reported.
Such a bank could be of significance to German and other European research institutions that co-operate with each other, across borders.
Stem cell research is the subject of a fierce ethical debate pitting researchers, who say the cells – taken from embryos within two weeks of fertilisation – could provide cures for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, against critics opposed to a proceedure that creates and uses human life not as an end but as a means.
Britain led other European countries into the stem cell debate last year by becoming the first country to explicity allow the creation of embryos as a source of stem cells.
Opponents of the practice, many citing Christian ethics and fundamental human rights, advocate similar research with cells taken from adult humans. The potential for the adult technique to achieve similar results is not yet fully researched.
But the participation of the Bishop of Oxford in Thursday's decision for the first time links the Church of England to the side advocating embryonic research. This sets up a debate within Britain's Christian churches, of which the Church of England is the one established by the state.
Likewise in Germany, parliamentarians from the opposition Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union have come out in favor of the controversial procedure.