Recent comments by German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries suggesting Germany's highly restrictive human embryonic stem cell law should be relaxed have emboldened some scientists who want a more flexible law to speak out for change.

In a speech last week at Berlin's Humboldt University, Zypries suggested that a human embryo outside the womb might not be protected by Germany's constitution, which is the basis for Germany's current restrictive stem cell law. The constitution, influenced by crimes committed by the Nazi government during World War II, affords protection of “human dignity.”

“As long as the embryo is in vitro, it cannot develop as a person if left alone,” Zypries said in her speech. “In my view, the abstract possibility of this kind of development is not sufficient for recognizing the embryo as having human dignity.”

The speech was widely reported in the German press and triggered sharp attacks from church officials...

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