Catholic Bishops’ Letter to Taoiseach on Embryonic Stem Cell Research made public

13 Nov 2003


13 NOVEMBER 2003



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.”

13 November 2003

Further information:
Fr Martin Clarke: (087) 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm: (087) 233 7797

Additional information about embryonic stem cell research is available
on the following websites: Assisted Human Reproduction: Facts and Ethical Issues