Supporters and Opponents of the Derivation of Stem Cells from So-called Surplus Embryos

The German Embryo Protection Act prohibits the use of an embryo for purposes other than serving its preservation. This ban, thus, also includes the use of "surplus" embryos for stem cell derivation. However, subject to certain conditions, the Stem Cell Act does permit the importation of stem cells which have been derived from "surplus" embryos. These conditions stipulate that the stem cells must have been created before 1 January 2002. In its “Recommendations of the German Research Foundation (DFG) on research using human stem cells of 3 May 2001”, the DFG expressed its opinion on the derivation of embryonic stem cells from "surplus" embryos. According to these recommendations, the DFG advocates conditional approval of the creation of embryonic stem cells from "surplus" embryos if the imported embryonic stem cells should “prove to be objectively unsuitable” or if “research work with them [were to be] constrained in an unjustifiable manner.” In its “Second Interim Report: Subject Report Stem Cell Research” of 12 November 2001, the Study Commission of the German Bundestag “Law and Ethics of Modern Medicine” expressed its objections against the “legalisation of the establishment of stem cell lines from ‘surplus embryos’ by amending the protection standard in the Embryo Protection Act.” In its “Opinion on the import of human embryonic stem cells” of 20 December 2001, the members of the National Ethics Council did not vote unanimously on the question of the derivation of embryonic stem cells from so-called "surplus" embryos: 9 out of 25 members voted in favour of conditional, ethical admissibility.

Act for Protection of Embryos (The Embryo Protection Act) [13 December 1990, Entry into force: 1 January 1991]. Online Version (German)

Act Ensuring Protection of Embryos in Connection With the Importation and Utilization of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (Stem Cell Act) [28 June 2002, Entry into force 1 July 2002]. Online Version(German)

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG): Empfehlungen der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft zur Forschung mit menschlichen Stammzellen [3. Mai 2001]. Online Version(German)

Empfehlungen der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft zur Forschung mit menschlichen Stammzellen: Naturwissenschaftlicher Hintergrund, Juristischer Hintergrund, Ethischer Hintergrund [3. Mai 2001]. Online Version(German)

Study Commission of the German Bundestag on the Law and Ethics of Modern Medicine: Second Interim Report of the Study Commission on the Law and Ethics of Modern Medicine - Subject Report: Stem Cell Research [12 November 2001]. Online Version(German)

National Ethics Council: Stellungnahme zum Import menschlicher embryonaler Stammzellen [20 December 2001]. Online Version(German)

2021, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities presented a statement in which they argue for a renewed discussion on the use of so-called surplus embryos and recommend a revision of the legal framework. 

This can be viewed here:

Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina und Union der deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften (2021): Stellungnahme. Neubewertung des Schutzes von In-vitro-Embryonen in Deutschland. Halle (Saale). Online-Version(German)

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