More MS news articles for July 2002

Germany's Strict New Embryonic Stem Cell Law Takes Effect

Jul 10, 2002
By Ned Stafford
FRANKFURT (Reuters Health)

Germany's Federal Cabinet on Wednesday issued legal regulations for a strict new embryonic stem cell research law, and announced that the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin will be the agency responsible for overseeing stem cell research.

The new law had been passed in late April, but details needed to be finalized and approved by the Federal Cabinet before the law officially went into effect.

Under those regulations, researchers wishing to import embryonic stem cells can now apply for approval at the Robert Koch Institute, which is similar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The Federal Cabinet on Wednesday also named the 18 members of the new Central Ethics Commission for Stem Cell Research. The members represent the fields of biology, medicine, ethics and theology, and will play a key role in determining whether researchers obtain permission to import embryonic stem cells.

Each application to import embryonic stem cells for research will be reviewed by the ethics commission. The commission then is required to issue a statement to the Robert Koch Institute on the ethical justification of a research project.

The law states that approval for import of embryonic stem cells will be given only for research that has "high-ranking" goals and for which there are no alternatives to using embryonic stem cells.

Rembert Unterstell, a spokesman in Bonn for the German Research Council (DFG), told Reuters Health that the council was generally pleased with the new law, noting that officially the DFG had said of the law: "We can live with it."

However, he said the DFG is opposed to the harsh penalties contained in the law, which states that researchers convicted of breaking the law could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or fined as much as 50,000 euros.

The DFG is concerned that the penalties will hinder the ability of German researchers to network with foreign researchers. "It will make international cooperation for German scientists much more difficult," he said.

Under the new German law, only embryonic stem cells that date from before Jan. 1, 2002, can be imported into Germany. Other requirements include the stipulation that stem cells come from so-called "surplus embryos" produced by in vitro fertilization but not needed for pregnancies, and that couples providing the stem cells were not paid money.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd