Churches Assail German Vote on Embryo Imports

Research OK´d on Foreigners´ Stem Cells

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BERLIN, FEB. 1, 2002 ( Christian denominations in Germany expressed profound disappointment after Parliament voted to approve the importation of embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

In a joint statement Thursday, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German episcopal conference, and Manfred Kock, president of the Council of German Evangelical Churches, said that with this measure «it will also be possible in Germany to carry out experiments with embryonic stem cells, produced through the death of the embryos.»

A great danger to the right to life has arisen, because there is no longer a guarantee of the «total protection of man from the moment of fertilization,» the two Christian leaders stated.

Following two years of discussions, the work of two ethical commissions, and four hours of intense parliamentary debate, Parliament decided on Wednesday to allow the importation of stem cells, obtained from human embryos, for strictly limited medical purposes.

Of 617 lawmakers, 340 supported the measure. An outright ban on the imports was supported by 265 lawmakers.

The law on protection of the fetus prohibits the production of embryos for reproduction or manipulation. In order to overcome this limitation, sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, which see in human embryo research an important economic possibility, presented the proposal to the political forces.

The debate was heated. Not even the ethical commissions — one governmental and the other parliamentarian — were able to resolve the question. The first recommended limited importation and the second, absolute prohibition.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne also addressed the topic, and expressed his «profound disappointment» with Parliament´s vote.

There is an awareness, he added, that now Germans will also «obtain benefit from the death of man from the beginning of his existence. Every means of the state of law should be used to revoke this fatal decision.»

Joachim Meyer, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, added that with this vote the opportunity was lost «to give a clear sign to protect life in biomedical research.»

«The first reactions, especially those of the scientific world, lead one to believe that the decision is only the first step to be able to use human embryos for research purposes,» Meyer concluded.

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