Science is pinning great hopes on stem cell research. However, research in this field also raises ethical concerns because the cells are generally obtained from early human embryos. This is why the legislator has set clear boundaries.
Human embryonal stem cells are undifferentiated progenitor cells. Each has the potential to develop into any type of “mature” cell. Once the process of maturation is complete, the cell takes on a specific function in tissue or in an organ. In addition, embryonal stem cells can divide indefinitely and are thus available in large quantities. These properties make human embryonal stem cells very interesting for medical applications.
The long-term objective of research is to develop specific body cells from embryonal stem cells. If this is successful, it will be possible, for example, to replace defective cells in a patient who has had a heart attack. While it is not currently possible to use stem cells therapeutically, there is justified hope that this will change in a few years.
Ethically controversial aspects
Research involving human embryonal stem cells is ethically controversial. Nowadays the cells are generally obtained from early human embryos. However, the embryos are destroyed in the process.
This is why, in Switzerland, stem cells may only be obtained from “surplus” embryos. These are embryos that develop in the course of artificial fertilisation but cannot be used to achieve a pregnancy. They would thus be incapable of survival anyway.
Last modification 28.11.2018
Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Division of Biomedicine
Human Research Section
Tel. +41 58 463 51 54