UCC: Embryos Can Be Destroyed in Name of 'Pragmatism'
By Senator Ronan Mullen
Irish Daily Mail
13th February 2009
"The man who saves a life saves the whole world," an old Jewish proverb says. It's a beautiful reminder that each of us is uniquely precious, that none of us can be reduced to our wealth, our career or our usefulness to society. Put the other way around, taking a life is tantamount to destroying a world.
This prejudice against killing isn't just a societal or cultural construct; it's the foundation of all ethical discourse. In the aftermath of World War II, researchers found that US soldiers had fired multiple bullets from their rifles, but hadn't hit many actual enemy troops.
When they looked further into it, they found that killing another human being profoundly cut against the grain, especially at close quarters. In many instances, men were simply not able to do it.
Even in Nazi Germany, where SS troops were brainwashed over years by a state ideology which dehumanised its enemies, it was found that killing innocent civilians at close quarters for any length of time seriously demoralised men. That was one of the reasons that the Nazis developed the gas chambers, so that their troops wouldn't have to kill thousands of people face to face.
Good societies nourish that natural prejudice, while degenerate societies, like Nazi Germany, seek to obliterate it.
Which of these societies does our own most closely match? Most of us would unhesitatingly say that our society rejects killing out of hand. We value human life, and condemn the killing of the innocent. In Ireland, unlike many other Western societies we can boast of protecting even the most vulnerable, the unborn, in our fundamental law, the Constitution.
There are, however, ominous signs. On Newstalk on Sunday, Dr Tom Moore, of the Department of Biochemistry in UCC took part in a debate on the ethics of research on human embryos. Dr Moore is one of those in UCC who is in favour of using human embryos in destructive research.
When challenged by Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro Life Campaign with the assertion that the embryo was a human life, he agreed. However, he said that we needed to be "pragmatic" about how these human beings should be treated.
In other words, certain human lives are worth more than others. Some must be protected with the full rigour of the law, while others can be destroyed.
After all, the human embryo cannot speak up for itself. It cannot form pressure groups, it cannot vote. Plus, it could be very useful to us in finding all sorts of cures. What could be more "pragmatic" than treating it differently to fully conscious, more valuable human beings?
What we are talking about here is the destruction of one group of human beings by another. Every one of us is a developed embryo. The destruction of any of us at our earliest stage of existence would have deprived the world of another person, another "world" as that ancient Jewish proverb puts it.
Last year, rather than waiting for our democratically elected legislature to decide on the issue, the Governing body of UCC decided that it could decide for itself whether certain human beings could be destroyed in the name of "pragmatism".
One of the people who recommended that decision, UCC law lecturer Dr Deirdre Madden is now dismissing calls for any legislative involvement. Instead, she feels that an "independent" body should be put in place to regulate research on human embryos.
This would certainly chime with the way in which the Government has handled this issue to date. In place of an intelligent, informed debate, setting out all the facts about both adult and embryonic stem cell research, the Government has outsourced discussion of the issue to an alphabet soup of quangos.
First we had the CAHR, or Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction. Its 24 to one vote in favour of destructive research showed just how loaded it was. Then there was the ICB, the Irish Council of Bioethics, which again called for permitting scientists to be allowed to destroy human embryos. Then we had UCC unilaterally deciding that such destruction was licit.
A debate would clarify a few issues. Firstly, it ought to present us with the philosophical choice in front of us, whether we choose to instrumentalise human life, or whether we decide that the preciousness of each human life, no matter how weak and defenceless, ought to be defended in our laws.
Secondly, it would make clear that, to date, there have been over 200 cures derived from research on adult stem cells, which do not require the destruction of human life. There have been no cures derived from research on embryonic stem cells.
Do we want to be a society which welcomes and cherishes human life, or do we view human beings as means to an end? Let's debate the issues, and decide.