Genetic editing of human embryos

Sir, – I refer to the replies from Prof Martin Clynes and Seamus McKenna (August 8th) to the letter from Revd Patrick G Burke (August 5th). Prof Clynes is incorrect when he says that the Supreme Court Roche v Roche judgment (2009) is still the relevant law in regard to the status of human embryos conceived through IVF.

Over the years, the courts had challenged the Oireachtas to define when human life begins, or at least, to state from what point the law guarantees the protection of the right to life of the human embryo. In 2014, the Oireachtas made the courts’ day, so to speak. On June 22nd, 2014, the Oireachtas passed the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. Under the word “body”, in Interpretation 2. (1) of that Act, the State recognises that the human foetus is a human person. Not only that but, in the same Act, the State endorses the use of DNA testing. The DNA of the individual human being is set down at fertilisation.

Taking those two points together, the State now recognises that the human being is a human person, and he/she is a human person from fertilisation onwards.

The 2014 Act doesn’t specify any restrictions in regard to the circumstances of conception. That Act, in fact, undermines completely the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, that only commenced on January 1st, 2014. By allowing the deliberate destruction of unborn human life in the earlier Act, the State is putting in serious doubt the right to life of all of us.


The foreseen wastage of human embryos in IVF, as it is practised ordinarily, is phenomenal. As regards the beliefs of Seamus McKenna, he is of course entitled to them, but one can’t base human rights legislation on private belief, or philosophical position alone.

One must base it on the facts as known to modern science.

If this matter is to be included in a possible referendum next year, we need to reform our referendum system, or else there is the serious likelihood that, once again, a proposal will be successful on the vote of a minority of all registered referendum voters, with approximately 40 per cent of all registered referendum voters abstaining.

The time has come to end rule by oligarchy, and to move to genuinely democratic rule, and require that, for a referendum proposal to be considered democratic, it needs the consent of clearly more than 50 per cent of all registered referendum voters.

Indeed there should be a pre-referendum, on the same basis, to discover whether the same clear and genuine majority actually want a particular issue put to referendum. Have we learned nothing from the bizarre UK Brexit vote, or the recent French presidential election? – Yours, etc,



Alliance for the Defence of the Family and Marriage,

Dublin 6.