Irish bishops write to Taoiseach over embryonic stem cell research

 On 29 October 2003, representatives of the Irish Bishops' Conference met with the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern TD, to discuss several issues including EU proposals to fund embryonic stem cell research. The bishops representing the Conference at the meeting were Cardinal Desmond Connell (Archbishop of Dublin), Dr Joseph Duffy (Bishop of Clogher) and Dr Patrick Walsh (Bishop of Down and Connor). On 6 November, Bishop Joseph Duffy wrote to the Taoiseach on behalf of the Bishops' Conference delegation, as follows: "Our primary purpose was to present to you the Church's concern at the manner in which the Sixth EU Research Framework Programme appears to be leading to a situation in which the European Union would fund destructive research on human embryos. Notwithstanding the possibility (as yet unproven) of therapeutic benefits in the long term, it is our position that neither the deliberate destruction of human embryos, nor the use of embryonic stem-cells which would be obtained by means of such destruction, can be justified. As we pointed out during our meeting with you, research into adult stem cells is ethically acceptable and legal in all member states of the EU, and has made most promising progress in recent years. Indeed adult stem cells have been used for many years in connection with bone marrow transplants. We asked the Government to take a lead in advocating that the EU should give significant research funding to adult stem-cell research. We welcome the desire which you expressed to prevent research on human embryos and embryonic stem cells here in Ireland, where it would be illegal as well as unethical. We also note your stated desire to safeguard the protection of human embryos at European level. As of now, however, the public impression is that the Irish Government is neutral on this matter, and the Irish delegation is understood to have made it clear on several occasions that it would not oppose the Commission proposal allowing for EU funding of destructive embryo research. As we indicated at our meeting with you, we believe that this is an issue so fundamental that neutrality is not an option. We believe it is vital that the Irish Government should communicate to Commissioner Busquin and to the other delegations in the Council of Ministers, and in particular to the Italian presidency, that it is indeed opposed to joint funding of research on human embryos and on embryonic stem-cells. We understand your concern that, should the Commission proposal not be adopted, an unregulated position might ensue. We would argue, however, that the consequences of a formal decision of the Council of Ministers explicitly agreeing to destructive embryo research would be very far-reaching. Such a decision would give additional legitimacy to destructive research on human embryos, and would render it more difficult to negotiate strict limits for joint funding in the next framework programme. We note that the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, as recently as Oct. 20th 2003, adopted an amendment completely excluding joint EU funding for research projects including human embryos as well as embryonic stem cells. We believe, therefore, that it is not impossible that improvements could be negotiated in the Commission proposal, even if this necessitates a temporary extension of the current moratorium. Finally, we wish to emphasise the crucial significance of the position which will be taken by Ireland at the EU, in view of the fact that the Constitution of Ireland is known to afford protection to human life from its beginnings. Commissioner Busquin, at a meeting with the Joint Bioethics Committee of the Bishops' Conferences of England & Wales, Ireland and Scotland, on Oct. 2nd 2003, has already suggested that, as the Irish Government appears willing to support the Commission proposal, it is difficult to see why other countries which offer less constitutional protection to the unborn should have any difficulty with it." Source: Irish Bishops Conference Communications Office Maynooth

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