September 24, 2022

Irish experts back embryo research

And fail to oppose cloning and egg markets
The Irish government’s bioethics experts have recommended that it legalise research on "supernumerary", or spare, IVF embryos, even though public opinion seems set against it. The Irish Council for Bioethics opposes cloning human embryos, but only because it sees no need at the moment. Similarly, in principle, it supports the use of hybrid embryos, but not at the moment. It is not opposed to prohibiting women from selling eggs, as a ban is " overly paternalistic".

Opponents of embryo research pointed to the results of a public consultation carried out by the Council in its report, "Ethical, Scientific and Legal Issues Concerning Stem Cell Research". More than two-thirds of the 2,000 respondents opposed the use of spare IVF embryos. Although many pages are devoted to analysing this consultation, it is unclear what use can be made of it by either side of the debate, as it was basically an internet poll and statistically useless.

Rather surprisingly for a predominantly Catholic country, the Council’s report politely dismissed the key notion of human dignity as woolly, diffuse and essentially meaningless. Since the Council believes that it is impossible to define "our essential and inviolable humanity", it was not prepared to concede a unique moral status to the embryo. Instead, it adopts a "gradualist" position, with the moral status of the embryo rising with its potential to develop into a person. However, somewhat confusingly, it then proceeds to use the cudgel of "human dignity" to knock the idea of patenting of human embryonic stem cells on the head.

Geneticist Andrew Green, of University College Dublin, a member of the Council, told the Independent that embryonic stem cell therapies, though far from a reality at this stage, offer exciting possibilities. "There is talk about it being able to treat Parkinson’s disease and produce insulin for people who have diabetes." ~ Independent, Apr 24