German top doctors and political parties react to Britain's decision to allow human embryo cloning by calling for an EU ban on the practice and for Berlin to issue a more critical ethical position.
Though cloning is already illegal in Germany, medical associations and a broad roster of politicians on Friday called on the government to take a strong ethical stand on the issue and push for a binding international ban. The move came after Britain on Wednesday gave scientists the go ahead to clone human embryos for purposes of medical research. British law, however, still prohibits the actual cloning of humans.
Leading the charge, the German Medical Association called for the complete prohibition of all forms of embryo cloning. "We can't allow embryos to be harvested like raw materials," association president Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe told reporters.
Other medical experts concurred. "The indivisibility of human rights are being eroded under the blanket of research freedom," said Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the Marburger Association of Doctors. He also called for a Europe-wide law protecting embryos.
A microscopic view of human embryos
Most politicians united
Wolfgang Wodarg -- a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party and chairman off the bio-ethics commission in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament -- called Britain's decision a "catastrophe." The Social Democrats' junior coalition partner, the Greens, have also called for the international community to forbid cloning.
"It's up the German politicians to work towards holding together the nations that have spoken out against cloning," Christa Nickels, a leading Green and chairwoman of the Bundestag's human rights committee, told public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
A cloning ban also found resonance with Germany's conservative opposition. The Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, called for the imposition of a cloning ban and criticized Britain's move as "unacceptable."
Maria Böhmer, deputy chair of the CDU's parliamentary group, said that by allowing cloning "the human being is degraded to a material. It's an extremely alarming and disastrous development for Europe."
Not a single one of Germany's three biggest parties supports the lifting of the current ban -- even for medical research. Nickels of the Greens noted that enormous progress has been made in conventional treatment of a number of diseases. Citing diabetes as an example, Nickels said the disease could be effectively and inexpensively fought using preventative measures like nutrition programs for children.
Science has come a long way since Dolly was cloned in 1996
However, the move by the British found support in at least one mainstream German political quarter. The neo-liberal Free Democrat Party called the move to allowing human embryo cloning a "logical step," since cloned animal cells have been used in Britain since 2001 without breaking any taboos.
It would be irresponsible to promote the "patient tourism," which would result if one country developed therapies unavailable in others, just so Germany "can stay in its own ivory castle," said Ulrike Flach, an FDP member and chairwoman of the Bundestag's research committee.
"German politicians are finally going to have to start dealing with therapeutic genetic questions," she said.