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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 18:20 GMT
Germany authorises stem cell imports
Embryo in early stages, BBC
The German parliament has voted to allow human embryo stem cells to be imported for medical research, but only under the proviso that there are strict controls.

About 340 deputies of the 618 present in the house voted for the motion authorising restricted imports. More than 265 members voted for a second motion banning the imports completely, but failed to secure a majority.

Proposals
Outright ban on imports - rejected
Restricted import of cells - accepted
Unrestricted imports - rejected
A third motion backing unrestricted imports picked up just 106 votes.

The vote is the culmination of two years of intensive debate between politicians, scientists and the Church.

All research involving embryos was previously banned in Germany, where memories of the horrors perpetrated by Nazi scientists have made the issue particularly sensitive.

Industry and ethics

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had urged the house to allow at least restricted imports in an address to the parliament prior to the vote.


It's not progress if we buy healing with the death of creatures who have the same value as we do

Cardinal Karl Lehmann
"This is the only way we can have a say in how this research is used," he said.

"Otherwise, research won't stop but could go ahead following strictly economic interests and in places where ethical concerns have less force," he warned.

The Minister for Research, Edelgard Bulmahn, had also voiced her support for allowing the import of embryo stem cells under strict conditions.

"I am against an absolute ban on imports, as I am convinced that we would throw away opportunities, because we are not certain which methods will lead to the knowledge we need in biomedical research," she said.

A national ethics council, set up after a German institute applied to bring stem cells in from abroad, also recommended restricted imports in its report in November.

Supporters of imports warned that the German biotechnology industry risked losing important business if scientists went elsewhere to research on stem cells.

But others were concerned by the ethical implications of such research.

"It's not progress if we buy healing with the death of creatures who have the same value as we do," said Roman Catholic Cardinal Karl Lehmann.

Germany's president, Johannes Rau, had also warned that the development of gene technology risked reviving memories of atrocities and human experiments committed by the Nazis.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Black
"The arguments in Germany have been heated"
See also:

29 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Europe rejects human cloning ban
18 Dec 01 | Europe
Stem cell ethics under microscope
25 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Cloning still to prove itself
10 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Bush stem cell move widely welcomed
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Human cloning ban 'to become law'
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