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German Panel Splits on Cloning Issue

14 September 2004 (All day)
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Cloning conundrum. Members of council are ambivalent about whether cloning human embryos to get stem cells (above) should remain verboten.

BERLIN--The German Bioethics Council has recommended that Germany keep its moratorium on all forms of human cloning--for now. On 13 September, the 25-member council unanimously called for a worldwide ban on reproductive cloning. But the council split into three distinct groups on the question of research cloning, in which embryonic stem cells are developed from human embryos created by nuclear transfer.

The first group, comprised of five members, said that any research with human cloning is morally unjustified and should be prohibited. A second opinion, backed by 12 signatures, argued that research cloning should be allowed under strict rules. Five other members said that research cloning should remain prohibited for now, but if ways are developed to reprogram adult cells into embryonic stem cells without first creating a cloned embryo, they should be supported. Three members declined to sign any of the opinions. Despite the apparent majority for allowing the research (Science, 20 August, p. 1091), the report concludes with a statement that the council agrees that Germany's moratorium on the practice should stay in place.

Ethics Council member and Nobel laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen says she is pleased with the outcome. Although she signed the second opinion, she says, the German moratorium is acceptable at the moment. The process is so inefficient in animal experiments, she says, that "it is premature" to move to human cells. Science minister Edelgard Bulmahn praised the report and said she sees no reason to change the current embryo-protection law.

Related sites
The German National Bioethics Council's stem cell site
Center for Genetics and Society summary of arguments over cloning

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