Voters in Switzerland Approve Embryonic Stem Cell Research Measure

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 29, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Voters in Switzerland Approve Embryonic Stem Cell Research Measure Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 29, 2004

Bern, Switzerland ( — A strong majority of Swiss voters on Sunday approved a ballot measure that would allow embryonic stem cell research using so-called leftover human embryos from fertility clinics.

Some 66.4 percent of Swiss voters favored the measure while 33.6 percent opposed the proposal. Over 1.1 million voters cast ballots in favor of the new law, which will take effect in March.

Pro-life advocates and those who oppose human cloning were dismayed by the results.

"The law on stem cells withdraws the right to life from living, defenseless humans," said Antoine Suarez, an opponent from a bioethics group.

"This kind of idea always leads to the destruction of humanity," he told Swiss news agency ATS.

Other pro-life advocates said the vote would open the floodgate for other ethical concerns and that Swiss voters will eventually be asked to approve human cloning for research.

Under the law, human cloning is forbidden to create human embryos for research, which may have helped it gain support from people who oppose embryonic stem cell research and human cloning in general.

However, human embryos from fertility clinics may be destroyed and researchers wanting to use such embryos must have their projects cleared by a governmental ethics and science committee.

Couples who have extra human embryos frozen for later use also have the right to require that their embryos not be used in research.

Scientists who engage in the research applauded the results.

"It’s a very restrictive law but it allows us to continue our work," said Yvan Arsenijevic, a scientist specialized in adult stem cells at the Jules Gonin hospital in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

"We, the scientists, were the ones who were seeking to have this restrictive law in place because there are potentially huge ethical problems with research on stem cells," he told a European news agency.

The conference of Catholic bishops in Switzerland had announced its opposition to the measure.

"Normally, the CVS (Swiss bishops conference) does not give pointers on how to vote," the bishops said. However, "a fundamental issue of bioethics is involved relating to the dignity and intangibility of human life," they explained.

Despite its unproven status and failures in clinical trials, Swiss voters say they hope embryonic stem cell research will succeed. The use of adult stem cells, which are considered more ethical, have already produced over 120 treatments for diseases and ailments.

Officials say there are more than 1,500 "spare" human embryos in Swiss fertility clinics and 200 more created annually.