Monday, May 17, 2010

Concern about the Irish Stem Cell Foundation

In my blog for 8 March 2010 I wrote about the newly established Irish Stem Cell Foundation, and I voiced my concerns as to the possible motives behind the formation of this agency.

Irish public policy and human embryonic stem cell research – A policy document by the Irish Stem Cell Foundation is the title of a booklet published by the Foundation in April of this year (2010). Here are some quotations from the booklet:

‘Overall the Report of the Bioethics Council acknowledges that:
“Societal attitudes in relation to these questions vary greatly, with some people fundamentally opposed to research involving nascent human life, while others take the view that research on human embryos offer [sic] a legitimate opportunity to garner new scientific and medical knowledge.”
‘In the past policy-makers have fallen back on a claim of general societal anxiety as a rationale for their lack of legislative action. Despite a lack of political will, given the significance of the issues involved, such reservations should not be allowed to hinder policy development.’

In relation to independent Senator Rónán Mullen’s proposed ‘Stem-Cell Research (Protection of Human Embryos) Bill’ [2008] that Senator Mullen put before the Seanad (Upper House of the Irish Parliament), but on which no vote was taken, despite vigorous debate, the ISCF says:
‘This Bill, if enacted, would … prohibit the use of any cell lines derived from embryos, even if the research from which the cell lines where obtained took place outside the jurisdiction. … The problem with this particular proposal, however, was that it did not hold out any prospect of regulation; rather it simply banned hESC research altogether. They also felt that the Bill in this form sent out a message that Ireland was not open to scientific research. …’

‘It is clear that Ireland will in the near future have to face up to the difficult challenge of defining at which point the constitutional protection of the unborn specified by Article 40.3.3. [of the Constitution of Ireland] begins, and that finding appropriate policy will involve serious moral debate, and a willingness to be open to compromising policy solutions. … As evidenced by the ongoing debate about legalising abortion it can be difficult to conduct a debate on an issue of public policy where opposing sides are separated by an apparently unbridgeable chasm of moral disagreement. …

‘Any policy initiative in this area which tries to weigh the moral value of human embryos against the moral value of human welfare, is trying to balance an acceptance of the value of human life against the obligation to care for existing human kind generally. The Irish Stem Cell Foundation (ISCF) argues that embryonic research is acceptable in certain contexts and under certain strictly controlled conditions. Defining what those contexts or conditions might be and subsequently securing agreement for them from both the conservative and scientific communities in Ireland is likely to prove difficult.
‘Both the Report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction and the Opinion of the Irish Bioethics Council have recommended that hESCR be allowed on donated “spare” embryos from IVF cycles up to a maximum of 14 days and that the generation of embryos for research should not be allowed nor should cloning be permitted. The ISCF feels that their approach was measured, and, in considering a wide range of interest groups within Irish society, allowed voice to the concerns of many over this type of research.
‘The ISCF would therefore support the carefully regulated use of supernumerary IVF embryos – embryos that are otherwise destined to be destroyed – for the purposes of embryonic stem cell research aimed at alleviating human suffering.
‘If Ireland continues to avoid addressing the difficult ethical issues thrown up by advances in reproductive technology we may find that Ireland is in danger of becoming, the “unregulated environment for practices that may be controversial” …and that we are no long capable of recognising and appreciating … “what is normal about being human” …
‘It is essential … that Ireland develops a flexible regulatory scheme that respects the ethical and moral values of 21st century Ireland while allowing the public/professional dialogue in this area to continue.’

I have quoted at length and, I hope, fairly, in order to give some idea of the direction in which it appears that the ISCF is going. Readers can make up their own minds.
It is important to mention here, too, that although submissions were ‘invited’ from interested members of the public to respond to the proposals of both the CAHR (Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction) and the ICB (Irish Council for Bioethics), and that these submissions were overwhelmingly against the use of embryos for research purposes, the two agencies blithely ignored this fact.