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Genetics: The Money and the Morals

Germany has been a world-wide front runner in the field of biotechnology. Its lead is now being challenged because of developments in research methods involving embryos.


Splitting an embryo

Germany currently bans the use of embryos for research. And moves to change the law on embryo research have led to hefty discussions.

The ethical problems involved in the use of embryonic tissue for stem cell research are greater here than elsewhere. Tampering with life in any form provokes memories of the Nazi era and its attempts to create a master race.

Only recently, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and president Johannes Rau became publicly involved on opposite sides of the debate.

Chancellor Schröder defends the need for stem cell research. Without it "we will hardly be able to secure our prosperity for our children and grandchildren", he said.

President Rau is coming at the issue from a markedly different philosophical standpoint. It is as devoutly Christian as Mr Schröder's viewpoint is secular. "Eugenics, euthanasia and selection - these are terms that, in Germany, are bound up with bad memories", said Rau.

The German biotech industry fears it will lose its edge and will be left behind while the moral debate goes on. A look across the borders illustrates their concern. The UK has recently legislated to allow embryonic tissue for stem cell research. And Britain has already overtaken Germany in the bio-tech race.

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