UCC lauded for move on stem-cell research

 

A BRITISH expert on medical ethics last night congratulated University College Cork (UCC) for its "admirable move" in approving the use of embryonic stem-cell research at the campus.

Speaking at a debate on stem-cell research at UCC last night, Baroness Mary Warnock said scientists had an absolute duty to "proceed on this path of human compassion".

Ms Warnock chaired a landmark government committee in the 1980s that established British law on fertility treatment and embryo research.

She said: "The success in the university of getting a licence to import embryonic stem cells for research, this seems to me to be a bold and totally admirable move on the part of University [College] Cork and I can't congratulate you enough. It is only the beginning of a vast programme of research which in the end will have enormous beneficial results. Because I believe scientists, and particularly medical scientists, have a huge responsibility for taking forward advances in medical science which will ultimately result in advances in therapeutics."

Ms Warnock said the point of stem-cell research was to help people who had incurred appalling injuries, those with neurological conditions, and members of society with the kinds of illnesses that meant that the best they could hope for was to be kept "comfortable" until their death.

She insisted scientists would be failing in their moral duties if they failed to explore stem-cell research in all its forms.

"I think people like Dr Tom Moore [of UCC] are not only to be congratulated on what they are doing, they would be failing in their moral duty if they didn't pursue this line of research. It is often presented that scientists have no morals. That is a total misrepresentation. Scientists also have moral principles.

"We must remember that morals is not anti-scientific - far from it. I know the opposition to the kind of work that is beginning in Cork is quite fierce because the anti-research lobby has been quite powerful. But I believe it is an absolute duty to allow scientists to proceed on this path of human compassion."

Ms Warnock is a former headmistress who went on to become one of Britain's leading moral philosophers. She is the author of many books on topics such as ethics, existentialism and memory and is also a member of the archbishop of Canterbury's advisory group on medical ethics.

She attracted controversy earlier this year when she said there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of their loved ones or society. She first made her remarks in a Church of Scotland magazine.

The 84-year-old came under fire from Alzheimer charities in the UK after she said she believed there were many who "sank into dementia when they would very much prefer to die".

UCC biochemist Dr Tom Moore spoke in favour of embryonic stem-cell research whilst Prof Tommy McCarthy and Dr Donal O'Mathuna were vocal in their opposition to it.

Dr O'Mathuna, an ethics expert from Dublin City University, said the human embryo should be allowed the respect of reaching its full potential. He claimed the lack of regulation surrounding embryonic stem-cell research in Ireland needed to be addressed.

Last month UCC became the first third-level institution in the Republic to effectively allow embryonic stem-cell research when members of the 40-strong governing body voted by 16 votes to 15 to endorse a code of practice recommended by the university's academic council. The Philosophy Society organised last night's debate on the decision.