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Monday, February 15, 2010

Minister Harney should learn from California's experience - Money spent on embryonic stem cell research is money wasted

There are three billion reasons not to allow the Supreme Court ruling in R v. R to be used as a cover to legalise research here involving human embryo destruction.

In 2004, Californian taxpayers agreed to fund embryo stem cell research to the tune of $3 billion in the hope of finding cures for chronic diseases and disabilities. But since then, not a single breakthrough has taken place.

Now the Los Angeles-based Investor’s Business Daily magazine is reporting that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine set up to administer the $3b has started diverting the funds earmarked for embryo research into the ethically non-controversial adult stem cell research.

Minster for Health Mary Harney may well try to rush through a regulatory framework allowing embryo destruction to meet the interests of the IVF and embryo research industries. She is on record as saying she has asked her officials to prepare heads of legislation and it is expected the proposed legislation will follow the recommendations of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction’s 2005 Report. The membership of this Commission was outrageously biased in favour of allowing embryo destruction – they voted 24 to 1 for it, only Professor Gerard Whyte of TCD dissenting, click here to see his closely reasoned dissent.

Clearly the recommendations of such a biased body are not a fitting basis for legislation in a democracy, all the more so when such run contrary to the balance of opinion among the general public, measured time and again in professionally carried out opinion polls every year since the biased Report was issued, which have found a majority of around 70% support the Dáil passing legislation protecting embryos against destruction in clinics and laboratories.

But Minister Mary Harney may also defend legislation allowing the destruction of human embryos in vitro on the grounds that embryo destruction is needed to provide embryonic stem cells for research to produce new medical treatments.

This argument, however, has turned out to be as flawed as an appeal to the biased Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction Report. For years we have been bombarded by propaganda saying killing human embryos has to be allowed so research using stem cells got by that way may lead to new medical treatments. But now we are finding out this simply ain’t so. It’s been all promise, but no product.

In 2004 California approved Proposition 71, a ballot measure allowing the State to borrow US $3 billion to fund stem cell research using stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos. The money was to be used, its proponents said, to develop new treatments based on embryonic stem cell research. The State agency set up to manage this was the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

On 12th January this year, the Los Angeles-based Investor’s Business Daily magazine reported that because the research using stem cells obtained by killing human embryos has not produced any breakthroughs in medical treatments, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine ‘is diverting funds’ to the research approach that ‘has produced actual therapies and treatments : adult stem cell research.’

Adult stem cell research, the Investor’s Business Daily comments, ‘not only has treated real people with real results it also does not come with the moral baggage embryonic stem cell research does.

It goes on to comment that advocates of embryonic stem cell research have engaged in a sort of three card trick:

To us this is a classic bait and switch, an attempt to snatch success from the jaws of failure and take credit for discoveries and advances achieved by research (which) Proposition 71 supporters once cavalierly dismissed. We have noted how over the years that when funding was needed, the phrase “embryonic stem cells” was used. When actual progress was discussed, the word “embryonic” was dropped because embryonic stem cell research never got out of the lab. You can read the Investor’s Business Daily magazine article in full here

So if Minister Mary Harney or the voices of the IVF and embryo research industries in Ireland start arguing that we need a regulatory framework allowing embryo destruction in order to open the door for research promising breakthroughs in medical treatment, the answer is we already know what lies down that path. California three US $ 3 billion at it and there were no results and now the agency set up to get results is diverting the money into adult stem cell research so it will have some results to show.

The real message of the Californian experience, then is that Ireland has a golden opportunity to put substantial resources into adult stem cell research to make Ireland an international centre of excellence in this field of research which is actually producing the goods.

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Ireland stripping Constitutional protection from human embryos in vitro, the latest developments from California take on a significant added meaning.

With her experience in other ministries, Minister Harney is in a position to appreciate the economic as well as the medical knock-on effects of making Ireland an international centre of excellence for the ethically non-controversial adult stem cell research.

1 comment:

  1. What was R v. R, the frozen embryos case actually about? I’ve listed 15 of the questions it involves in The Weekend Post series ‘Protecting Human Embryos in Clinics and Laboratories’ on The Joe Bloggg. Want to have a look? It’s at http://josephmccarroll.blogspot.com/