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
- Loi fédérale relative à la recherche sur les cellules souches embryonnaires (Loi relative à la recherche sur cellules souches LRCS, Federal Act on Research Involving Embryonic Stem Cells (Stem Cell Research Act, StFG) of 19th December 2003 (Status on 15th February 2005), at http://www.bag.admin.ch/themen/medizin/03301/03361/03410/index.html?lang=en, (English translation) & http://www.admin.ch/ch/f/ff/2003/7481.pdf, accessed 15 June 2011.
- Loi fédérale sur la procréation médicalement assistée (LPMA) du 18 décembre 1998, Federal Law on medically assisted reproduction (LPMA) of 18th December 1998, at http://www.admin.ch/ch/f/rs/8/810.11.fr, accessed 15 June 2011.
- Swiss Federal Constitution of 18th April 1999, (Constitution fédérale de la Confédération suisse du 18 avril 1999), at http://www.admin.ch/ch/e/rs/101/index.html, accessed 21 July 2011.
- Opinion 11/2006 ‘Research involving human embryos and fetuses’, Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics, at http://www.bag.admin.ch/nek-cne/index.html?lang=en, accessed 15 June 2011.
- Opinion 06/2002 ‘Research on Embryonic Stem Cells’, Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics, at http://www.bag.admin.ch/nek-cne/04229/04232/index.html?lang=en, accessed 15 June 2011.
- Opinion 01/2001 ‘Forschung an importierten embryonalen Stammzellen’ (‘Opinion on Importation of Stem Cells’), Swiss National Advisory Committee, at http://www.bag.admin.ch/nek-cne/04229/04232/index.html?lang=en, accessed 16 June 2011.
- A researcher's view on the Stem Cell Research Act: interview with Alois Gratwohl, "The Stem Cell Research Act is too complicated."