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Swiss public backs embryo stem cell research

29 November 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 286

A referendum in Switzerland has shown 'overwhelming' support for a new law allowing Swiss scientists to perform embryonic stem cell research (ES cell). This means that the public has endorsed legislation passed by the Swiss government last December, which will now come into effect in March 2005.

In what was the world's first national popular vote on the issue, 66.4 per cent of people said they were in favour of the research, despite hard-fought opposition to the new law from an alliance of conservative and pro-life Catholic, Protestant and Green groups. Under Swiss law, which favours direct democracy, the public are often asked to vote on contentious issues. In 2000, 75 per cent of voters rejected a proposal to ban IVF and donor insemination. Pascal Couchepin, the country's interior minister, said the latest referendum was 'a vote of confidence in research', adding: 'No other country has the confidence to put such a question to the people'.

At the end of September this year, the Swiss launched a campaign to gain public support for ES cell research, before the nation-wide vote on 28 November. It argued that it needed to lift its ban on ES cell research so as to 'keep up' with other countries, such as the UK. The government's campaign focused on the fact that ES cell research could offer hope for incurable illnesses such as Parkinson's, diabetes and heart disease. Couchepin also stressed the need to ensure that the public was well informed of the legal, medical and ethical issues before their votes were cast.

The Swiss law is more restrictive than in some other countries where ES cell research is permitted. It only allows the research to take place on embryos left over from fertility treatments, donated for the purposes of research by the couple who created them, after full informed written consent has been obtained. Embryos cannot be created solely for research purposes and the use of any embryo is prohibited after it is seven days old. In addition, every research project will need to be approved by an ethics committee.

Swiss voters back stem cell research
The Guardian |  29 November 2004
Swiss Voters Back Stem-Cell Research
The New York Times |  29 November 2004
Swiss voters OK stem cell research law
ABC News |  28 November 2004
Swiss voters vote for limited stem cell research legislation
Medical News Today |  28 November 2004
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