BioWorld International Correspondent

BORNHEIM, Germany - The German government last week created a National Ethics Council whose main task is to advise government on ethical questions arising from progress in biotechnology.

In a statement made to the newspaper Tagesspiegel, German Chancellor Gerhard Schrvder said, "It is an ethical responsibility to think about new processes of healing that could be initiated with genetic engineering. It is not unethical to think about whether or not to make economic use of this technology possible for a developed industrial society."

Schrvder expects the council to provide information the government needs to make informed decisions, he said in an interview printed in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The council also is expected to support public discussions on ethical issues raised by biotechnology. Its information will be open to the public.

The council is independent in its activities. The chancellor appoints members for a period of four years. Those under consideration should be upstanding individuals representing scientific, medical, theological, philosophical, social, legal, ecological and economic interests, the government said. Appointed members include Nobel prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard, the president of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (national research foundation, DFG) and Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, as well as an evangelic, a Roman Catholic bishop and representatives of a patient group and of labor unions.

One of the first topics on the council's agenda could be embryonic stem (ES) cells, which German law prohibits generating. The only way of obtaining ES cell lines is importation. That plan is insufficient, DFG said, and it proposed a graduated scheme of enabling researchers to generate ES cell lines in Germany.

Schrvder told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the law would not be changed for the time being. He expects the National Ethics Council first of all to provide information on the state of the science.

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