Regulation of stem cell research in Switzerland

Embryonic stem cells can be derived from surplus IVF embryos (up to 7 days old). Embryonic stem cell lines can be imported specifically for research purposes.

Current legal position

Stem cell research in Switzerland is regulated by the The Federal Act on Research Involving Embryonic Stem Cells of 19 December 2003 (applied from 1 March 2005).  

The act allows surplus IVF embryos (those produced in the course of an in vitro fertilization procedure that cannot be used to establish a pregnancy) to be used for research under strict licensing conditions and subject to the consent of the couple concerned. Surplus embryos (up to 3 per IVF cycle) can only be kept for research purposes – it is not permitted to freeze embryos for further IVF treatment or donation. Embryos must be destroyed following their use for research. 

The act also allows for the importation of embryonic stem cell lines for research purposes, and lists criminal penalties for failure to comply with conditions for research on embryos.

The Federal Office of Public Health publishes a full list of hES cell lines produced in Switzerland and imported for use in Switzerland


The 2003 act had a tumultuous passage into law. It was originally passed by the Swiss Parliament as the Stem Cell Research Bill in 2003, but opponents of embryo research successfully organised a petition that forced a referendum on the bill in 2004.  This bill, which allowed research on surplus embryos, was approved by a majority (66%) of Swiss voters and became law on 1 March 2005.  

Prior to the 2003 act, the 1998 Reproductive Medicine Act had banned the storage and preservation of embryos, and their development outside the body.

Under the Swiss Constitution, human dignity enjoys protection especially from being misused by regenerative medical therapies, gene technology and other reproductive technologies. For example, pre-implentation genetic diagnosis is forbidden.   

Ethical and regulatory oversight

The Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics was set up in 2001 to advise on and monitor new scientific knowledge and technologies in terms of protecting human health and dignity.  The Commission has issued a number of opinions on stem cell research.

Relevant laws, policies and links

Researched by

Sean Small

Reviewed by

Christèle Gonneau