Written Answers. - Assisted Human Reproduction.

Michael Ring

Question:

277 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Government will neither introduce legislation nor support EU funded schemes that involve the deliberate destruction of human embryos at any stage of development here or in other countries. [10674/03]

There are no plans to introduce legislation which would permit the deliberate destruction of human embryos. In relation to assisted human reproduction services generally, while there is no legislation regulating this area at present, medical practice is governed by guidelines issued by the Medical Council. These state that the creation of new forms of life for experimental purposes or the deliberate and intentional destruction of human life already formed is professional misconduct.

I am conscious of concerns about the absence of a statutory framework to regulate this area. With a view to addressing these concerns in a comprehensive and informed way and following a Government decision on the matter, I established the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction in March 2000 with the following terms of reference: "to prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all areas of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy in this area." When completed, the commission's report will provide the basis for informing public debate prior to the finalisation of any policy proposals. Given the complexity of the issues under examination, it is difficult to be definitive about when the work of the commission will be completed. I am, however, satisfied that it is working as expeditiously as is feasible.

In relation to EU funded programmes, the following sets out the position with regard to both the sixth framework research programme for the EU – FP6 – which will run from 2002 to 2006 and EU aid for policies and actions on reproductive and sexual health and rights in developing countries. The specific programmes for research under FP6 were agreed at the EU Competitiveness Council meeting on 30 September 2002 following a Danish Presidency compromise concerning the funding of ethically controversial research under FP6. All member states, with the exception of Italy, accepted the compromise proposal. My colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, who has lead responsibility for FP6, has advised that the agreement reached guarantees respect for national legislation and regulations, which means that FP6 cannot fund any research activity here which would not satisfy our ethical requirements. FP6 excludes several ethically controversial areas of research activity from funding, namely, research aimed at human reproductive cloning, modification of the genetic heritage of human beings and the creation of human embryos solely for the purposes of research or stem cell procurement.
The agreement reached at the Competitiveness Council also introduced a moratorium up to 31 December 2003 on the funding of research under FP6 on human embryos and human embryonic stem cells, with the exception of the study of banked or isolated human embryonic stem cells in culture. The moratorium is designed to allow for a period of further consultation, during which the Commission will present to Council and Parliament in spring 2003 a report on human embryonic stem cell research which will form the basis for discussion at an inter-institutional seminar on bio-ethics. The Commission will then have to submit a proposal establishing further guidelines on principles for deciding on the Community funding of research projects involving the use of human embryos and human embryonic stem cells. This proposal will then have to be considered by Council following full consultation with Parliament.
In addition to the moratorium, a regulatory committee made up of representatives appointed by member states will be established and will be used if any proposed research actions involve ethically sensitive areas. Ireland will have a significant input into the work of the regulatory committee and the deliberations in Council on the proposal, which the Commission must bring forward.
Regarding the financing of EU research in FP6, the only funding involved comes from the EU budget. Clearly, the Commission will have to respect our Constitution, regulations and ethical principals if it proposes to fund any research here. Any suggestion that the Commission should, in effect, seek to apply provisions of the Constitution to restrict activities in other member states where those activities are both legal and ethical, cannot be sustained.
In agreeing to the adoption of the specific programmes, Ireland entered a statement in the Council minutes which recalled our earlier statements and which shared a number of the concerns expressed by Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria. It also pointed out that Ireland will continue to focus on the need to ensure the utmost respect for human life and the protection of human dignity.
The European Commission in March 2002 submitted a proposal to the Council and the European Parliament for a new regulation on reproductive and sexual health and rights in developing countries. The previous regulation expired on 31 December last, having been in force since July 1997. The purpose of both the previous regulation and its proposed replacement is to allow the Commission to continue to support programmes in developing countries in the area of reproductive and sexual health and rights. The Commission's role in development co-operation is laid down in Articles 177 to 181, inclusive, of the treaty establishing the European Community.
The previous regulation and its proposed replacement form an important part of the EU's development policy. In particular, the legislation addresses the specific UN millennium development goal relating to maternal health, which calls for the reduction of maternal mortality by three quarters over the period 1990 to 2015. Throughout the developing world, particularly in the poorest countries, hundreds of thousands of women continue to die in childbirth because health systems cannot afford proper medical care and appropriate services.
The draft regulation, like the previous 1997-2002 instrument, is based on the programme of action agreed at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 and the "Cairo +5" follow-up conference of 1999. Ireland's position in the Council negotiations on both the draft regulation and its predecessor has been that they must be in strict conformity with the Cairo programme of action, which provides that abortion is not to be promoted as a family planning method and that regulations regarding abortion are solely for individual countries to decide. We are satisfied the draft regulation in its current form meets this requirement and represents a substantial contribution by the Union towards implementation of the millennium development goals, to which the international community is committed.