Letter to German Government supporting changes to the Stem Cell Act, 2002

  • 7 March, 2008

March 7, 2008

Re:  Revisions to the 2002 German Stem Cell Act

Dear members of the German Bundestag,

As representatives of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), we urge you to accept the recent recommendations of the German Research Foundation (DFG) regarding revisions to the 2002 Stem Cell Act. These call on the Bundestag to abolish the qualifying date rule, to grant permission for the importation of  human embryonic stem cell lines for diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic purposes in addition to research, and to remove the current criminal sanctions against German scientists working both in Germany and in foreign jurisdictions. 

As the primary international organization of scientific, ethics, and clinical researchers in the field of stem cell biology, the ISSCR speaks for our many members who study stem cells of all types. The recommendations by the DFG are consistent with long-standing scientific and ethical positions of the ISSCR.

Our scientific opinion is that research on stem cells of all types should be pursued with the goals of reducing human suffering and better understanding human physiology. At our most recent annual meeting in Australia, data were presented demonstrating that many of the human embryonic stem cell lines generated since January 1, 2002 have excellent characteristics, and appear to have substantial advantages in terms of quality and diversity over embryonic stem cell lines generated prior to that date. 

The cutting edge research presented at this meeting also demonstrated once again the great potential for stem cell research of all types to lead to improved understanding and treatment of many terrible diseases. While we recognise that the derivation of human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells opens up exciting new areas of stem cell research, this technology is at a very early stage of development and many fundamental questions remain unanswered.  In particular, it remains uncertain whether it will ever be possible to use iPS cells in patients because at present these cell types are predisposed to transformation into cancer cells. For the foreseeable future it will be necessary to continue research on all types of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells, iPS cells, and adult stem cells. We must use all the weapons at our disposal in this fight against disease. 

We are concerned that under the current law in Germany, your scientists are becoming increasingly isolated in the field of stem cell research. The fines, imprisonment and  uncertain legal status facing German scientists who seek to use human embryonic stem cells in potentially life-saving research discourages crucial international collaboration and places your researchers at a distinct disadvantage. We respectfully submit that lifting these restrictions is consistent with the constitutionally granted freedom of scientific inquiry and will accelerate the pace of discovery by German researchers in this burgeoning field.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing issue.

Updated March 26, 2008