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Comments relating to the Draft Code of Ethical Practice for the Propagation and Use of Approved Human Stem Cell Lines.


Experimenting with or upon human beings has heretofore been widely condemned.

We again face this threshold with the somewhat trite view that we are only going to experiment upon spare embryos excess to the requirements of IVF practices. Crossing this bridge is justified with the attitude that such embryonic human life is to die anyway. That self-same logic can equally be applied to both you and I– we are both to die anyway.

Then there is the other argument that we already, as a community, accept the destruction of implanted embryos by way of abortion, condone abortifacient ‘morning after’ medications and IUD contraception, why then make a special case for respecting human embryos.

Such argument was likewise offered by Prof. Trounson on National TV last year. Though initially affirming that the embryos were clearly human life he then proceeded to ask by what right should society suddenly tell us that a five or six day old embryo is outside the boundaries of what society already accepts. "Why make such a fuss over a few day old embryo? It doesn’t make sense to me!"

Then Prof. Trounson does have a vested interest in advancing biotechnology and embryo experimentation.

It is further argued that crossing new frontiers of science (especially over this last century) has been one of the characteristics of human kind. Yet the much vexed arena of ART and IVF while usually pursing the paramount objective to make and keep human life, is only just beginning to promote all manner of problems for the now adult products of these endeavours.

Before America followed the successful Steptoe - Edwards IVF experiments with Lesley Brown, giving Louise to her on July 18, 1978, Professor Paul Ramsay of Princeton University, predicted that IVF procedures would give rise to untold moral- ethical - legal and psychological problems for parents, their children and society. That was 25 years ago! Now we are well into this "Brave New World" where bio-medical technologists determine who will live and who will die. Prof. Ramsay’s predictions are only now a trickle but they will soon become a flood.

When the cry is:– ‘I must have a baby no matter the cost!’ – who really gives thought for the emotional ‘soul’ of an adorable infant 15-20 years on?The desire for children is strong and wholesome but life offers no guarantees and good things can have prohibitive costs.’ Who really cares for the welfare and emotional stability of children created by IVF assisted experimentation? Who is to provide the economic ‘money tree’?

The issue of identity remains engulfed in the ‘lust’ for individual rights and today the devious manipulation of discrimination legislation appears to be opening the door to all manner of familial [unnatural family], Infinitely Variable Family groupings.

This can of worms has only just begun to be opened. A veritable Pandora’s box.

In Australia some 400 children are born each year with no possible way of knowing their biological or genetic history. At the present time Victorian legislation fortunately does not allow such predicament.

The far-sighted legislation put into place in Victoria. Namely, the original Victorian Infertility Treatment Act of 1985 (revised in 1995), even includes no research on human embryos, and currently places restrictions on who can (& cannot) get access to IVF treatments.

This legal statute document we are now told is subject to alteration and drastic changes in consequence of the High Court decision 2 years ago purporting to allow even socially infertile women access to IVF technologies. I.e. single women and those who choose a lesbian lifestyle.

Again it is herein admitted that these guidelines or code of ethics, relating to Human Embryo Experimentation, are subject to change as they do not constitute a legislative document or basis for law.

Under these circumstances and moreover, in the light of new guidelines being formulated under the direction of the NHMRC by the Australian Health Ethics Committee…. Ethical guidelines on the use of reproductive technology in clinical practice and research…. Feb. 2003; one might well ask why bother at all to comment on the present Victorian Code of Ethical Practice. Clearly this code must be subject to change since new legislation is mandatory before they are even regarded as appropriate. Under current Victorian legislation embryo experimentation remains essentially prohibited.

We are here faced with the proverbial ‘cart before the horse’.

Consequences of Social and Cultural Relativity.

Cultural changes in society appear now to have edged to the precipice where dignity of human life and its sacredness is not longer respected. This in spite of the claims made in this Draft Code of Ethics. And when the dignity of even one human life is assaulted all of us are threatened. The whole concept of destroying life to save it is morally repugnant.

The prevailing cultural philosophy of moral and ethical relativism now defrauds our consciences of right and wrong. Ethical and moral relativism distorts truth and error and even justice becomes merely relative. When we dare to cross this bridge of utilitarianism because of some perceived greater good and advance to some high goal simply because it is achievable, does not mean that we ought. Because one group believe this recourse to be right does not make it so.

Morality is the glue that holds a society together. Ethical relativism undermines that glue. For without moral absolutes the value of individual human beings is determined by mere expediency. When men begin to class their fellows as of varying value terror and tyranny are not far behind. Thus, if we now decide to sacrifice human embryos as mere commodities for other sick people, where will it end? Do we now proclaim that embryonic life, pre-born or even newly born are of less value than adults? Is the human embryo now to rank lower in status than a laboratory rat?

Discussion on matters of life and death.

Sixty years ago C. S. Lewis with prophetic foresight wrote in The Abolition of Man, "If any one age really attains, by eugenics or scientific education (or progress) the power to make its descendents what it pleases, then all men who live after are the patients of that power–slaves to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners." In other words
"The power of Man to make himself what he pleases means . . . the power of some men to make other men as they please."

The advances now being made in biotechnology bring us to the threshold of choosing either(i) purely utilitarian advances with the view of demanding the greatest good for the greatest number whereby human life becomes but a mere commodity or (ii) to retain the precept that human life is intrinsically valuable, to be respected and if you will, regarded as sacred.

The decisions that are now being made in this arena of biotechnology and medical science confronts and challenges our concepts of bioethics…truth from error, right and wrong, should we or ought we not cross over this bridge. Meanwhile, legislation and law remain in the moral doldrums; meandering in the rear of scientific progress. Without ‘laws’ to guide us we no longer have the capacity to objectively face and decide right from wrong.

Presently Australian law, professional medical codes and international covenants, interfacing these kinds of decisions, prohibit the taking of human body parts from human beings so as to cause death. This prohibition protects those who have limited prospects of life or are dying, even if their organs could in fact save the life of another.

These ethical norms against the use of human beings for research purposes have existed since 1975 and are bound by the principles reflected in the 1947 Nuremberg code ‘Permissible Medical Experiments’, the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki and embraced within the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Debate in regard to when human life begins is not at issue. The science of this is clear as is confirmed even within these guidelines. If the embryos of which we here speak are not living and human, why then are the scientists so keen to generate human stem cells from them.

The question that remains unanswered is what protection is owed to this human life? Its DNA, its chromosomes and all its other fundamental characteristics, are unique.

We have to ask is this human life inherently worthy; has it any sanctity of respect or do we regard it as mere tissue; a commodity for experimental purposes. The choice [if given the option] now facing society, our legislators and medical biotechnologists, is either human life is sacrosanct or it is not. This is not a question decided according to any kind of religious faith; nor is it determined by pro-life or pro-choice prejudices. This very fact of science now confronts us.

The historic and well-respected 1995 Ramsey Colloquium statement on embryo research acknowledges that:

The [embryo] is human; it will not articulate itself into some other kind of animal. Any being that is human is a human being. If it is objected that, at five days or fifteen days, the embryo does not look like a human being, it must be pointed out that this is precisely what a human being looks like—and what each of us looked like—at five or fifteen days of development.

Therefore, the term "pre-embryo," and all that it implies, is scientifically invalid.

The research which is to be guided by this "Draft Code of Ethics" relates to an exercise in which we trade off embryonic human life [unto death] in the hope of other human lives being saved or extended. Herein we begin to pick and choose which human lives are valuable and which are not. Which ones are to be destroyed and which are to enjoy enduring life.

Concluding Remarks

An examination of the legal, ethical, and scientific issues associated with human embryonic stem cell research leads to the conclusion that support for any such research that necessitates the destruction of the human embryos is, and should remain, prohibited by law.

Such destructive research practices are not seen to fulfil the objective of respecting human dignity.

2.1 We affirm that research, including stem cell research, should respect the human rights, fundamental freedoms and human dignity of all individuals.

Moreover, in the light of the current advances being achieved by what is known as ‘adult stem cells’ (from a variety of ethically honest sources, including if necessary from fetal tissue), against the absence of successful cures and seeming insurmountable rejection risks, using stem cells derived from human embryos, there does not yet appear to be any overwhelming incentives to pursue this ethically devious route involving human embryo experimentation.

Clause 2.2.2 would thereby be more than adequately satisfied.

2.2.2 Human embryos will only be used for research after due consideration of a range of alternative methods of achieving the research goal.

Any utilitarian devaluation of any form of human life for the alleged benefit of another is a price we simply cannot afford to pay.