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IVF researcher calls Catholics 'irrational'

Ethicists opposed to using excess IVF embryos for medical research are irrational hypocrites, according to Professor Alan Trounson, Australia's leading researcher in the field.

In a stinging attack on opponents of the research in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, Trounson told the Australian stem-cell summit in Melbourne that in 25 years of working in the IVF field, "I have never been approached by a Catholic priest to undertake any form of burial of embryos that are being discarded".

According to Professor Trounson, the longstanding method of disposing of excess embryos was to take them out of the freezer, leave them on a bench for an hour to thaw out and throw them in the bin.

"Now suddenly to say these embryos have all of the qualities of a person and should receive (the same) respect is astonishing," he said, adding it was an issue between him and "members of the Catholic Church".

Dr John Fleming, director of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide, said it was "outrageous" for Professor Trounson to label the Catholic Church as hypocritical.

"To my knowledge no parents have ever asked for religious rites to be performed on their embryos. Similarly, women who have abortions don't ask for religious rites to be performed . . . I assume because they know what they are doing is wrong," Dr Fleming said.

"Besides, if the church attempted to perform rites on any of these discarded embryos, you can bet Alan Trounson would be the first to complain about a breach of the privacy act - and he would be right."

Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, ethicist and lecturer in philosophy at the University of Melbourne, said Professor Trounson did not understand the meaning that funerals and burial services had for Christians.

"He fundamentally misunderstands it. Funerals serve the living. We pray for the dead, but we don't pray for embryos as they have never had the chance to sin."

Southern Cross Bioethics Institute
Ethical and Practical Questions about the Embryonic Stem Cell Panacea (Fr Anthony Fisher OP, JPII Institute)

The Australian

32 Aug 2002