Madam, – I read with disappointment the criticism by Dr Dolores Dooley (a philosopher) of Prof William Reville’s (a biochemist) views of the science of embryo research (January 28th).
The truth of Prof Reville’s assertion that ethically uncontroversial adult stem-cell research has paid back handsomely is to be seen daily in our hospitals; despite more than a decade of research, embryonic stem-cell research has not led to any therapy. Indeed, even its supporters tacitly admit that the value of embryonic stem-cell research is now less in terms of curing disease in the near future and more in terms of basic developmental biology. Such fundamental research is very valuable and important but alternatives to the use of human embryos exist in the form of ethically uncomplicated induced pluripotent stem cells (essentially “reprogrammed” skin cells).
Prof Reville’s central point was that it is a simple, if uncomfortable, fact of biology that the embryo is a living human being, albeit at the earliest stage of development. Indeed, Dr Dooley’s own Irish Council for Bioethics has acknowledged this fact, although it concluded that embryos lacked “full moral status” to save them from deliberate destruction through experimentation.
Bearing in mind legislation to protect animals used in experimentation, by a combination of judicial fiat and legislative inertia, the human embryo now literally has less protection under Irish law than does a laboratory rat.
The Government should legislate as a matter of urgency to afford protection from deliberate destruction to human embryos as exists for human beings at all other stages of the continuum of life. As Prof Reville rightly pointed out, such protection need not be incompatible with IVF. – Yours, etc,
Prof PLH McSWEENEY
School of Food and Nutritional
University College Cork.
College Road, Cork.