What are the benefits, what are the risks of bio-genetic technology? In Germany the discussion reaches a turning point on Wednesday when lawmakers vote on the import of stem cells.
When does human life begin?
Over a decade ago Germany passed the most stringent law on embryo protection in Europe. It states that human life begins with the fertilization of the egg and forbids research that does not serve to protect and maintain the embryo.
However, the law does not say anything about whether or not stem cells, for which an embryo is destroyed, can be imported to Germany.
On January 30th Germany’s lower house of parliament decides whether or not the import of embryonic stem cells for research purposes should be allowed. Because the question is a moral one, party politics will be pushed to side for a vote of conscious.
The discussion crosses all party lines. Several ethic commissions and special advisory councils on biotechnology have addressed the issue. All have come to different conclusions.
Production of stem cells in Germany: No. Here the law is fairly straightforward; embryos may not be produced for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells, despite the potential for healing benefits. Researchers and pro-research minded politicians have criticized the position, but have accepted it as long as they can import the stem cells elsewhere.
Import of stem cells: Perhaps. Here the decision makers seem to be torn between the needs of science and moral consciousness.
On November 12, 2001 the Enquete Commission, an independent advisory group for biotechnology and ethics, voted against importing stem cells. Just two weeks later on November 29 the National Ethics Committee voted in favor of importing the stem cells for research.
Now the decision rests with the German parliament.
Is it morally justifiable to create life for the purpose of destroying it for the benefit of healing others? Is it right to halt or slow down scientific progress and the improvement of medicine on the basis of moral objections?