German Federal Parliament: Decision on the Importation of Embryonic Stem Cells

On 30 January, 2002 the German Federal Parliament approved the importation of embryonic stem cells subject to strict conditions with the necessary majority on the second ballot. The motions for an absolute import ban as well as for more extensive lifting of controls on the importation of stem cells thus both failed. The Embryo Protection Act has not been amended and hence research involving embryos as well as "therapeutic cloning" will continue to be prohibited in Germany. 

The Federal Parliament passed a law permitting the importation of only those embryonic stem cells that were created abroad prior to a certain cut-off date. This is intended to prevent any further consumption of embryos for research purposes in Germany. "The fulfilment of the specified preconditions ensures a transparently functioning regulatory agency, legitimised by statute, the authorisation of which is required for their importation." (from the motion). 

Development of the law:

The German Federal Parliament voted on three motions on 30 January, 2002. The second motion secured the necessary majority on the second ballot:

Motion 1 seeks an absolute ban on the importation of ES cells: Bundestagsdrucksache 14/8101. Online Version (German)

Motion 2 provides for the importation of ES cells on an exceptional basis. It is envisaged that a regulatory agency, which has still to be set up, will ensure transparency: Bundestagsdrucksache 14/8102. Online Version (German)

Motion 3 supports research on and the creation of ES cells: Bundestagsdrucksache 14/8103. Online Version (German)

On 22 February, 2002, on the basis of this decision by the Federal Parliament, a multi-party group of MPs presented a "Bill ensuring protection of embryos in connection with the importation and utilisation of human embryonic stem cells (Stem Cell Act -StZG)" (Bundestagsdrucksache 14/8394). This bill was adopted by the German Federal Parliament on 25 April, 2002 in the version of the Committee for Education, Research and Technology Impact Assessment of 17 April, 2002 on the second and third readings (Bundestagsdrucksachen 14/8394 and 14/8846). 559 votes were cast in the final roll call, thereof 360 for, 190 against and 9 abstentions.

The Stem Cell Act adopted by the Federal Parliament and the minutes of the corresponding plenary session can be accessed via the document server of the German Federal Parliament by entering the numbers of the relevant "Bundestagsdrucksache".

Document server of the German Federal Parliament. Online Version (German)

Bundestagsdrucksache 14/8394 (Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Sicherstellung des Embryonenschutzes im Zusammenhang mit Einfuhr und Verwendung menschlicher embryonaler Stammzellen (Stammzellgesetz - StZG)). Online Version (German)

Bundestagsdrucksache 14/8846 (Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des Ausschusses für Bildung, Forschung und Technikfolgenabschätzung). Online Version (German)

Bundestags-Plenarprotokoll 14/233 (Tagesordnungspunkt 7). Online Version (German)

Following a long, controversial discussion and several expert hearings, the German parliament voted on 11 April 2008 for a one-off extension of the cut-off date from 1 January 2002 to 1 May 2007. Furthermore, punishment has now been limited to those using embryonic stem cells located in Germany only, if prior permission has not been given for their use. The above legislation has now achieved greater legal clarity on stem cell research carried out by Germans abroad. 

The trigger for reopening this debate (and ultimately for changing the law) came from position papers written by the German Research Foundation and the German Ethics Council in the years 2006 and 2007.

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (2006): Stammzellforschung in Deutschland - Möglichkeiten und Perspektiven. Stellungnahme der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft. Online Version (German)

Nationaler Ethikrat (2007): Zur Frage einer Änderung des Stammzellgesetzes. Stellungnahme. Online Version (German)

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