The German Embyro Protection Act

Just four weeks after Germany had officially reunited in 1990, the new Parliament passed the Embryo Protection Act [EPA]. It regulates reproductive technologies, such as in-vitro fertilisation, egg and sperm donation, surrogacy, and scientific research on embryos and human embryonic stem cells.

What is prohibited in the German Embryo Protection Act?

This list of prohibitions includes: the cloning and conservation of human embryonic cells and totipotent cells, and their use for research; the fertilisation of an egg cell for a purpose other than for inducing a pregnancy; and the splitting of motherhood, i.e. a woman is not allowed to donate her egg cell or embryo to another woman, or practice surrogate motherhood using IVF.

Why is the EPA important?

The EPA’s assemblage of legal regulations was the product of eight years (1982–1990) of parliamentary debates in the West German government.

Consequently, the EPA also contained many regulations that reflected specifically West German ideas of morality, motherhood and the embryo.

Next to establishing a new definition of the beginning of human life applicable for new reproductive technologies, the German EPA also laid down various strict guidelines governing the use of these technologies. Most of these guidelines were absolute prohibitions, “to be punished by fines and prison sentences of up to three years” (EPA §1, own translation).

Why the Embryo Protection Act prohibits egg donations

The German Medical Association (Bundesärztekammer) is a body of scientists and medical experts and, in regular newsletters and publications, it describes new medical guidelines, laws, and technologies, and communicates them to practicing doctors and clinicians across Germany. In one of its newsletters, it summarised the reasoning behind the prohibition of dividing motherhood by means of egg donation and surrogacy:

Using the prohibition of egg and embryo donation and surrogacy, the legislators wanted to prevent the division of motherhood, that is, they wanted to make sure that the mother bearing the child and the genetic mother are the same woman. The rationale behind this is the understanding that a child in its corporeal and spiritual development is decisively shaped by both the mother’s genetic endowment and the tight relationship between the bearing mother and the child. A divided motherhood gives rise to the fear that there will be special difficulties in the child’s self-discovery and negative consequences on its spiritual development. The division of motherhood shall be prevented by prohibiting the use of strangers’ egg cells in the induction of a pregnancy and the prohibition of surrogacy (German Medical Association 1998: 4, own translation).


German Medical Association [Bundesärztekammer]. 1998. ‘Richtlinien zur Nutzung von assistierten Technologien’ [Guidelines by the German Mecial Association for new assisted reproductive technologies]. Available online   accessed 3-5-2016


EPA, Embryo Protection Act [Embryonenschutzgesetz]. 1991. Available online accessed on 1/1/2016.


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