A project to assess the views of some ordinary Germans finds mixed views on stem cell law
March 17, 2004
A group of Germans meeting over the past several months in an effort to learn how “normal people” feel about stem cell research has urged Germany to encourage more use of adult stem cells for research and treatments.
The 12-member Citizens' Conference on Stem Cells handed over its final report on Monday (March 15) to Wolfgang Thierse, speaker of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.
Christof Tannert, head of Bioethics and Science Communication at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin-Buch, told The Scientist that the Citizens' Conference was the highlight of a 3-year project he is leading, called “Discourse on Ethical Questions of Biomedicine.”
Some 20 adults were selected to participate in three conference weekends beginning in December. By the last weekend, eight of the original members had dropped out of the project for various reasons.
Tannert said he believes that the final report reflects the “average opinions” of German society on the highly controversial issue and that it will be used by members of Parliament when crafting any new laws. Tannert said the 12 remaining Citizens' Conference members voted unanimously that Germany should encourage more use of adult stem cells for research and treatments.
The group acknowledged that embryonic stem cells multiply faster and have greater potential for differentiation than adult stem cells. But they also said adult stem cells have some advantages, such as a lower risk of rejection if a patient's own cells are used, greater control of cell development, and a lower risk of tumors.
In what Tannert said was the most surprising part of the report, six of 12 members said they would support a “careful” relaxation of Germany's strict embryonic stem cell law, which was approved in 2002 and stipulates that only embryonic stem cells dated before January 1, 2002, can be imported into Germany.
However, the other six members support the current law and feel officials representing Germany abroad should not contradict the law, which was alleged last autumn by Germany's major opposition political party.
In other conclusions:
• All 12 members opposed embryonic stem cell research in which the embryos were produced specifically for research or produced with an egg that was donated for a purpose other than reproduction.
• Ten of the 12 members were opposed to all forms of cloning.
• Eight of the 12 members believed that an embryo is human at conception,
while the other four believed that “the quality as a human” begins when
the embryo is implanted in the mother's womb.
Copyright © 2004, The Scientist Inc.