Swiss voters on Sunday endorsed legislation on stem cell research that forbids the cloning of human embryos but allows scientists to extract the cells from unwanted embryos to use in research.
The rules are similar to those in place in the Netherlands and Spain, but are not as liberal as those in Britain or Belgium, where cloning to extract cells is allowed.
The measure received 66.4% of the vote. Embryonic stem cells form after fertilization and can develop to form any tissue of the body. Many researchers believe that stem cells harvested from embryos could be used to regenerate nerve tissue or cure diseases, including Alzheimer’s. But extracting stem cells from an embryo kills the embryo, which opponents say is tantamount to taking a life.
The Swiss rules would allow only the use of embryonic stem cells left over from in-vitro fertilization.
“It’s a very restrictive law, but it allows us to continue our work,” said Yvan Arsenijevic, a scientist at the Jules Gonin hospital in the city of Lausanne.
Opponents of the measure, including Roman Catholics and the Green party, want to ban all research on stem cells. They say it involves taking human lives.
“People had trouble expressing themselves on such a difficult issue. For us, the debate on the ethics will continue,” said Ueli Leuenberger, National Council member and vice president of the Green party.
The government said the law would permit Switzerland -- which has major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies including Novartis and Roche -- to take part in vital research.