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Ethicist says no room for compromise on rights of human embryo

One of Australia's leading Catholic ethicists has expressed regret that most people look upon human embryos as a dispensible means to an end, and not as centres of value in themselves.

Salesian Fr Norman Ford told Monday's International Conference on Cloning and Stem Cell Research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne that the view of God as the source and giver of all life - especially human life, and including embryonic human life - goes back to the Hebrew Scriptures.

He said that those who hold that the human embryo should be given absolute respect and treated as a person "cannot find much room for compromise".

He told the Conference: "Live frozen or cloned human embryos should not be destroyed for medical research or therapeutic purposes."

"Many people think human embryos could not have any interests or intrinsic value beyond sentience - the seeking of pleasure and avoiding pain," said Fr Ford. "Many others see embryos in a different light that dates back thousands of years to the Hebrew Scriptures. These often portray God as the source and giver of all life, but supremely of human life."

Fr Ford heads the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, based at the Mercy Hospital in Melbourne.

He said in a statement released after the conference that recent findings by German scientists gives cause for optimism.

"German scientists claimed to have identified adult pluripotent stem cells in placental cord blood," he said. "If verified, this would be very significant indeed. They may be able to provide the same valuable therapies sought by researchers using embryonic stem cells. Problems of immune rejection could be solved. Stem cell research and therapies could be had without involving embryo destruction.

Fr Ford said that it would be hard to ethically justify allowing research using ES cells "if pluripotent stem cells can be ethically obtained from alternative sources without destroying human embryos".

"There is no ethical justification for making laws to authorise the destruction of IVF embryos or cloned human embryos to obtain ES cells for medical research. It would be worse to permit the creation of IVF or cloned human embryos for destructive research.

"Public funds should be provided for research on adult stem cells and pluripotent stem cells that are not obtained by the destruction of human embryos. This is the way towards a consensus on stem cell research. This ethical approach would less divisive and socially advantageous to the community as a whole.

"Governments should seek independent critical evaluation of scientific evidence presented in support of stem cell research."

Embryos, cloning, stem cell research and ethics (Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics 9/11/04)

Ethicist stresses moral inviolability of embryonic stem cells (CathNews 5/10/04)
Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics

Catholic ethicist rejects use of hybrid embryos (CathNews 28/10/04)
British decision prompts Vatican to renew stem cell warning (CathNews 13/8/04)

11 Nov 2004