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"Make or break"

How far can research be taken? Should human embryo cells be used to obtain scientific knowledge? Should they be used for improving the treatment and cure of diseases? Or can the use of human embryo cells not be morally justified under any circumstances? This issue is not just a matter of intense debate on a federal level. The CDU in Constance (Baden-Württemberg) has also invited interested members of the public to discuss this controversial issue.

The moral theologian from Freiburg, Eberhard Schockenhoff, is a self-styled protector of life; but so is the stem cell researcher Marcel Leist from the University of Constance. The two men clashed at a recent debate on the use of embryonic stem cells held by the local CDU group and moderated by SÜDKURIER journalist Uli Fricker. The debate took place in front of an audience of approximately 100 people.

“The goal of our research is clearly to preserve life,” said Marcel Leist who is hoping to find out how heavy metals and chemicals act on human nerve cells. He obtains his nerve cells from the stem cells of human embryos which were created abroad as part of in vitro fertilisation and have gone through a few rounds of cell division, but are not required for a pregnancy. “Nobody knows what to do with these cells,” said Leist explaining that they are only a few thousandths of a millimetre big, and lack any conscience or intention. This is how he justifies research involving embryos. However, critics object that the removal of the stem cells leads to the destruction of the embryo.

”Human dignity must not be violated at any stage from the very beginning to the very end of human life,” said moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff from the University of Freiburg. Schockenhoff, who is a member of the National Ethics Council, maintains that human life begins with fertilisation and does not believe that human dignity is connected to the detection of certain capacities. The Catholic Church holds the same beliefs. Schockenhoff regrets that parts of the Protestant Church do not ethically object to embryonic stem cell research. “It is not possible to partly support the preservation of life. It is a question of ’either/or’.” Schockenhoff also objects to the gaining of knowledge and the development of new pain-relieving or lifesaving drugs using methods that are ethically questionable.

Mathias Schmidt from the Constance-based pharmaceutical company Nycomed sees the public ethical and moral debate on stem cell research as important. He believes that stem cells will play an important role in the development of new therapies. Nycomed is not active in this field and has no plans to carry out stem cell research in the near future.

For Andreas Jung (CDU) and other members of the German Bundestag, the issue of stem cell research is a matter of conscience. Jung opposes the liberalisation of the Stem Cell Act, which in Germany currently only permits research on stem cells that were created abroad before 2002. Political discussion is currently focusing on postponing the cut-off date to 2007. Jung warns against the cut-off date becoming a continually moving goalpost.

Source: Südkurier (Claudia Rindt) - 4 April 2008 (P)
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/make-or-break