Stem cell research in Germany: ethics of healing vs. human dignity

Med Health Care Philos. 2003;6(1):5-16. doi: 10.1023/a:1022585217710.


On 25 April 2002, the German Parliament has passed a strict new law referring to stem cell research. This law took effect on July 1, 2002. The so-called embryonic Stem Cell Act ("Stammzellgesetz-StZG") permits the import of embryonic stem (ES) cells isolated from surplus lvF-embryos for research reasons. The production itself of ES cells from human blastocysts has been prohibited by the German Embryo Protection Act of 1990, with the exception of the use of ES cells which exist already. The debate on the legitimate use of ES cells escalated, after the main German research funding agency, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), unexpectedly published new guidelines recommending a restricted use of human ES cells for research. Meanwhile, the debate has ethically divided society, political parties, government and church members into a group supporting and a group rejecting ES cell research. The arguments in favour of such a research can be summarized as arguments derived from a new "ethics of healing" calling for a therapeutic imperative, whereas the arguments against can be summarized as arguments violating the fundamental principle of human dignity as they imply the destruction of human embryos. This article will try to present and evaluate various ethical arguments founded on the latest biological and medical data on the potential use of stem cell technologies. It will finally come to the conclusion that ES cell research is opposed to human dignity, since the procedures of isolating ES cells require the destruction and instrumentalization of human embryos. Human embryos are human beings at a very early stage of their development, fully possessing the ability of completing their development. At this very early stage, human embryos are extremely dependent and fragile, and thus vulnerable corporealities. Vulnerability and human dignity demand the protection of the embryo's corporeal integrity. Hence, this essay will try to propagate research with adult stem (AS) cells, a procedure which does not require the destruction of human embryos; with regard to the necessary plasticity, it should be emphasized that AS cells very much resemble ES cells.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cloning, Organism / ethics
  • Embryo Research / ethics
  • Embryo Research / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Genetic Therapy / ethics
  • Germany
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Politics
  • Stem Cells*