For a number of years now Government backed bodies have sought public submissions on life-related issues hoping to boost their claim that their recommendations are in line with public demand. The public have responded in massive numbers, and encouragingly, the majority of submissions have been pro-life, with most people wanting human life in its most vulnerable stages protected by law, matching the findings of professional polls commissioned yearly by the Pro-Life Campaign.
However, it's been disturbing how often the recommendations of these bodies have gone the opposite way, raising the question how come the government who appoints most members of these bodies picks people unrepresentative of the majority view in the general public?
It points to a need for democratic oversight of such appointments to clarify why people with views differing sharply from the majority are appointed more often than those who share the commonly held pro-life views.
And in the run up to legislation in relation to frozen embryos the pattern has been repeated in the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction and the Irish Council for Bioethics.
For example, in the report of the Irish Council for Bioethics published in 2008, Council members were unanimous, 13 to 0, in recommending allowing that human embryos to be destroyed to extract stem cells for research, but 77% of the members of the public who responded to their question on this issue took the opposite view*
Another recent example of a preponderance of public submissions being pro-life now seems to have been the Medical Council’s advertising for public submissions in its preparations for the seventh edition of its Ethical Guide. Recently, in preparing an article for the Irish Medical Times, Dara Gantly discovered that the Council received “more than 6,500 submissions from members of the public”, “the overwhelming majority” of which were pro-life. You can read this article which includes some analysis of the Pro Life Campaign’s submission here.
In the run up to the publication of government proposals following R v. R, it is politically significant that the preponderance of pro-life submissions mirrors Pro-Life Campaign poll findings that most people support Dáil legislation to protect human embryos.
Or to look at it the other way round, the fact that the majority of submissions match what the majority of the general public think bespeaks a political energy and organisational commitment in the pro-life community likely to translate into a political dividend for election candidates supporting legislation protecting embryos and a political cost for those who don’t.
* Ethical Scientific and Legal Issues Concerning Stem Cell Research: Opinion (2008), (p. 94)