The new legislation was approved - reversing an earlier decision - by a large majority of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies last week, with 352 votes in favour and only 60 against the new provisions. It is expected that the law will soon be ratified by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has supported the bill since its inception.
The new law states that ES cell research will be allowed to take place on embryos, left over from fertility treatments, which have been kept in frozen storage for more than three years. The biological parents must have given their approval for the embryos to be used in research and successful implantation of the embryos must not be possible - that is, they must be deemed unlikely to survive the thawing and implantation procedures. The Brazilian press has estimated that between 20 to 30 thousand embryos stored in the country will become eligible for research. An existing ban on the cloning of human embryos for both reproductive and research purposes continues to be upheld.
Catholic Church officials had campaigned against the new law - Brazil is thought to be about 70 per cent catholic. Cardinal Geraldo Majella, president of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, said that the passage of the act 'opens the gates to offend human dignity', adding: 'It's a sad day, not only for the church, but for mankind. Today we open the door to kill embryos - what will pass tomorrow?' But others had campaigned in favour of the bill. Some Brazilians in wheelchairs - wearing t-shirts with the motto 'Stem Cells - Hope' - gathered in the Congress last week to encourage legislators to vote in favour of the bill. Carolina Sanches, who suffers from a neuromuscular disease, said 'we have waited for this for a long time, and only now were we able to change their minds'. Other patient groups and scientists also welcomed the results of the vote. 'It's the regenerative era', said Dr Paulo Niemeyer, a neurosurgeon, adding 'will this work? I don't know. But it's new, and this is our great hope'.