Limited permission for stem cell research in Republic

Muted cheers for University College Cork’s decision to allow limited stem cell research – but…..

It has blocked the harvesting of stem cells directly from embryos created for the purpose or from surplus embryos arising as a result of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments

Isn’t it hypocritical only to allow research on ” lines from abroad?” Yet even this is remarkable given the absence of rational debate beyond the odd piece in the Irish Times. Ireland still lags far behind the UK in this vital area.It’s worth explaining what hybrids embryos actually are, to deal with the religious and perhaps instinctive recoil from the idea.

The fourth type of hybrid, the kind being developed in British universities, is called cytoplasmic. It is created by transferring the nuclei of human cells, such as skin cells, into animal eggs from which almost all the genetic information has been removed. The resulting embryo would contain only a tiny amount of animal DNA – around 0.1% – and the rest would be human. The embryo would be grown in a lab to a size of around 200 cells.
Why create human-animal embryos?

Scientists developing these embryos say they will provide a plentiful source of stem cells – immature cells that can develop into many different types of tissue – for use in medical research. Researchers believe that, by producing stem cells carrying the genetic defects of diseases, they will be able to work out how a cell’s molecular machinery goes awry and perhaps find new cures for diseases.

The research has been hampered by the severe shortage of “spare” human eggs donated by couples undergoing fertility treatment.

Lisa Jardine a professor of the history of science and ideas and the new chair of the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority, gave this fascinating account of her ethical approach. On MPs and others taking part in the recent debate:

“Once it had been explained, she believes, only those dogmatically opposed thought hybrid embryos were scary Frankenstein monsters.”

On the Churches:

“..the Catholic church had become a block to medical progress… She has pondered this long and hard. “We have this one fatal impediment, which is the late 20th-century Catholic church’s commitment to fertilisation of the egg as being the moment of humanity. Now that wasn’t true in the 19th century – the Catholic church did not believe that then. St Augustine, who I greatly revere as a great father of the church, believed that the child became human when it kicked in the womb, so that would be 19 weeks.”

  • Leo

    So, Lisa Jardine reckons that the thoughts of a 4th century philosopher should be given higher precedence than that of a 21st century scientist?

    Maybe she should remember that abortion has always been seen as wrong by the Church (check out the Didache, which dates from the 1st century).

    We didn’t know how reproduction worked until the 19th century, so no wonder that people like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas may have had strange ideas on how it worked.

    But the key concept was that they always said that abortion was sinful, even if done before the child “quickened”.

  • abucs

    Stem cell research was never an issue. Embryonic stem cell has been.

    Of course materialists in the field will want to research on embryonic stem cells although they have not given any medical breakthrough to present.

    If (non embryonic) stem cell research brings great medical breakthroughs then the cells used will be owned by the patient.

    If the breakthroughs are from embryonic stem cells then the cells will be owned by the capitalists who employ the scientists.

    There’s a big dollar difference in who owns the cells, whereas medical treatments are not ‘owned’ by anyone in our capitalist structure.

    If an embryo is not a person but property, then they have no rights. Those rights will be transferred to whoever ‘owns’ them which we haven’t seen in law since slavery was abolished.

    I think great PROMISES of what EMBRYONIC stem cell research MIGHT deliver are a smokescreen for clearing the way for capital rights on such breakthroughs at the expense of non embryonic cell research.

    But there are plenty around who will jump on any bandwagon that seeks to promote the religion verse science delusion.