Brussels, 29 Nov 2004
Switzerland has become the first country in the world to ask its citizens whether scientists should be allowed to carry out research on the stem cells of human embryos. The referendum provided a resounding 'yes' to government proposals, with 66.4 per cent of voters giving their approval.
Tight restrictions will remain on Swiss stem cell research, with stem cell production limited to embryos no more than seven days old. Therapeutic cloning and trade in embryos will be prohibited, along with research on the embryos themselves.
The 'yes' vote was backed by the four political parties in the governing coalition, along with universities and business. Switzerland is a leader in medical research, and none of these parties wanted the country to be excluded from potentially groundbreaking research.
While the law central to the referendum was approved in 2003, opponents collected enough signatures to force a referendum.
Some scientists believe that embryonic stem cells could potential be used to treat illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries as the cells can adapt to form almost any type of tissue or cell.