Embryo Experimentation Challenged

2 Jan 2001 | BIOETHICS

The scientific community and the ethics committees have a right to our support. But the decision of the National Ethics Committee raises serious questions about its fundamental criteria.

Ethics committees exist because not everything that can be done in laboratories should be done. What is technically feasible is not necessarily morally right.

But the public is not well served if an ethics committee okays experiments that effectively terminate human lives.

Embryos are human lives. Science no longer allows the fiction that they are only human tissue. Nor are they just "potential" human lives. Naturally they are tiny at the earliest stage of their development; it could not be otherwise. But size is not what determines the ethical issues.

Nor does the fact that these are embryos that are going to be discarded anyway. All the people involved in bringing about embryos' existence have responsibility for protecting their lives so long as they need protection. And who of us is entitled to decide who shall live and who shall not?

Even if there is some debate about when embryos become persons, so long as they can be persons our obligation is not to act as if they were not, just as a shooter in the hills may not shoot a target that could be another person. He must first be certain that it is not a person.

This is precisely what the ethics committees and laboratory technicians must be certain of before they are entitled to experiment on embryos or discard them.

Bishop Peter Cullinane
President, New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference