Stem-cell research rules


Madam, – Senator David Norris is reported (“Absence of rules on stem-cell research misleading”, April 17th) as having said that the embryos used to produce human stem cells had the potential to become human but were not human. He went on to say: “Nobody takes an embryo to the zoo or the cinema or the church. Let’s get real about this.”

In inviting us to get real, Senator Norris is not seeking to remind us simply of the rather obvious factual changes that occur in the continuum of life from conception to death: he is attempting to make an important distinction in rights, based on particular capacities that a human being may have at particular stages of his or her life.

A child who shows wonderment at an elephant at the zoo delights us because of the child’s innocence, spontaneity and capacity to share experience.

But no child’s rights should depend on such a fragile entitlement. Some children (and of course some adults) may lack intellectual capacity or be cut off from easy relationship with others, but their human dignity and their human rights are no less on that account.

To attempt to condition the right to life on the capacity of a human being to relate to, or enthral, others is to contradict the core insight of human rights – that each of us, at all stages in our life, regardless of our particular capacities, has an equal inherent worth and dignity. – Yours, etc,


Regius Professor of Laws,

School of Law,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.