27.08.2010 Stem cell research – Judge blocks US federal funding of embryo research – What Ireland must do

27.08.2010 Stem cell research – Judge blocks US federal funding of embryo research – What Ireland must do

27th August 2010

Stem cell research – Judge blocks US federal funding of embryo research – What Ireland must do 


This week in Washington DC, a federal judge blocked the implementation of President Obama's executive order allowing federal funding of research requiring the destruction of human embryos, saying it was against federal law.

Judge Royce C Lamberth said the legislation enacted in 1996 by Congress, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, prohibited ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.’

In 1999, in an attempt to get around this clear ban, Harriet S Rabb, a lawyer with the US Department of Health and Human Services came up with an argument that the ban only covered the killing of the embryo, but that the research involving the cells that the embryo was killed to extract was not banned.

Judge Lamberth rejected this: ‘The language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding in which a human embryo is destroyed. This prohibition encompasses all “research in which” an embryo is destroyed, not just “the piece of research” in which the embryo is destroyed’, which was Rabb’s argument.

The Obama administration has pledged to appeal the decision.

The decision by UCC and other Irish third level colleges to allow research on their campuses using cells that needed human embryos to be deliberately destroyed to get them relies on the same ethically phoney distinction.

And the same thirst of the embryo research industry to get their hands on a steady supply of human embryos to extract elements for use in research is evident in the ghoulish recommendations of the 2005 Report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction which the Irish Supreme Court deferred to so conspicuously in its R -v- R decision. The Ethical, Scientific and Legal Issues concerning Stem Cell Research: Opinion, issued in 2008 by the Irish Council for Bioethics, made similar recommendations based on equally fallacious arguments.

Every year since the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction published its discredited Report, however, in one professionally conducted opinion poll after another carried out for the Pro-Life Campaign, the Irish public has shown itself, by a substantial majority, to be consistently and coherently in favour of the Dáil enshrining protection of the embryo in legislation, as has been done in other EU jurisdictions like Germany and Italy.

Not only that, it is the ethically non-controversial adult stem cell research that is bringing in the breakthroughs in the clinical management and treatment of a range of conditions, not the ethically objectionable embryo-destructive research.

This was confirmed in a review piece by Associated Press Science Writer, Malcolm Ritter, at the start of this month. With the heading, ‘Adult stem cell research far ahead of embryonic’, the article states:

For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it's adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments.

Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals.

Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

You can read the Associated Press article here

Let’s hope the ethical difference between treating someone with their own cells, on the one hand, and on the other hand, destroying another member of the human family in order to get some of their cells to use in research or treat someone else, will be grasped by the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney and her officials as they draft the embryo legislation expected this autumn. And let’s hope, too, that they will see and seize the golden opportunity to promote Ireland as an international centre of excellence in adult stem cell research.

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