The National Ethics Council in Germany announced on Monday that it would continue to oppose the cloning of human embryos for research despite calls for more research into its benefits.
Germany will continue to oppose human cloning for research
The German National Ethics Council, the 25-member body created in 2001 by the Federal Government to offer advice on ethical issues in the life sciences, announced on Monday that it would continue to oppose the cloning of human embryos for research. The announcement, which came after more than a year of study, reinforces a vote taken by the German parliament in 2002 that outlaws cloning.
Human embryo cloning for stem cells is illegal in Germany, although research from stem cells outside Germany has been allowed by the German parliament which first passed a ban on all types of human cloning, be it for reproductive or therapeutic purposes, as far back as 1991.
The National Ethics Council had been set the task of investigating the nature of stem cell research by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in late 2002. The subject was brought to the fore once again when the British government loosened the restrictions governing human cloning in July and granted its first license for cloning for stem cell research on Aug. 11 this year.
Eight days after the British passed a law that allowed the cloning of human embryos for research purposes, the chairman of National Ethics Council called on the government to revive the debate on therapeutic cloning.
"Even though the Bundestag has clearly said 'no' to therapeutic cloning, it is now time to readdress, and discuss the issue in a more precise and differentiated way," Spiros Simitis said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper last month after the council debated the issue in Berlin.
Council divided on cloning topic
Embryonic stem cells.
It was clear at the time that stances varied considerably across the 25-member council, which includes scientists, theologians, business executives and trade union representatives, and the publication of the statement was put off until September. But the council, which has no legislative power, made clear that the statement on Monday was far from unanimously supported.
The debate in Germany is likely to continue. Reproductive human cloning is illegal in most countries but in some, including Sweden, Canada, the United States and Belgium, the cloning of human embryos is allowed if the purpose is to conduct research on diseases. Scientists think human tissue produced from embryonic stem cells could be used to treat Alzheimer's, diabetes and other illnesses. Stem cells are non-specialized cells that can produce mature specialized cells.
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Last week it became known that a couple from Northern Ireland had been given permission to pursue the process of producing an embryo whose cells could eventually help their three-year-old son recover from a potentially deadly blood disease. If the process proves to be a success, Simitis warned that a type of "bio tourism" might develop within the EU and that German researchers would emigrate to Britain if Germany did not rethink its stance.
The spokeswoman for research policy of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentary group, Katharina Reiche, and the Libreal FDP's expert on bioethics, Ulrike Flach, have both gone on the record expressing support for a new debate. But the CDU deputy group leader Maria Böhmer has strongly rejected the idea.
Ulrich Kasparick, a permanent secretary to the Federal Research Ministry, said the ministry saw no need for action. "There is no majority for changing the ban on cloning," he told the FAZ.