We believe the recommendation made by the Irish Council for Bioethics, advocating embryonic stem cell research, is deeply flawed for philosophical, scientific and moral reasons.
The core issue is whether it is right ever to destroy embryos. Killing embryos, whether as a consequence of IVF procedures or in pursuit of research aims, violates the golden rule of morality that “the end never justifies the means”.
This core moral precept is found universally, formulated positively in the Christian tradition and negatively in that of the Orient. Creating embryos in the knowledge that some of them will be killed also violates the ethical code of all great religions, which forbids the killing of the innocent.
Arguments attempting to justify the killing of embryos on philosophical grounds are equally untenable. The embryo is a new being, distinct from the sperm and ovum that preceded it.
There is no logically or philosophically consistent point on the continuum of life — lasting from conception to death — in which we can say that life begins other than at conception.
Developments in human reproductive science demonstrate that adult tissue holds great promise as a source of stem cells but there are still problems to be overcome in their use. Embryonic stem cell research also presents problems. These cells tend to form uncontrollable tumours called teratomas, which are frequently rejected by a patient’s immune system. Embryonic stem cell research has produced no successful therapies, transplants or cures.
But the core difference, from a moral perspective, is that research involving adult stem cells respects the fundamental principle of the right to life of all, from conception to death, while the other violates it.
Jim O’ Sullivan