UCC stem-cell research approval met with criticism

A DECISION by University College Cork (UCC) to endorse stem-cell research has been met with criticism by groups, both within, and outside the university.

The Pro-Life Campaign, the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr Dermot Clifford and various government officials have criticised the decision taken by UCC and described the use of human embryo cells for research purposes as “unethical”. They also called for the Irish government to instate legislation that prohibits embryo-destructive research or any research that derives benefits from the harm of human embryos.

Dr Clifford, who is a member of UCC Governing Authority that passed the university legislation, has distanced himself from the decision and stated that permitting such research contradicts the ethical and moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

The university has defended its decision, arguing that embryonic stem-cell research is essential to the work of researchers and that prior to the decision, any researcher in UCC could import the cells for research.
The new legislation means that members of UCC must now apply if they wish to import them and can only use human embryonic stem-cell lines (hESC) from approved sources. Every research project involving hESC must be submitted to the University Research Ethics Board for ethical review prior to the beginning of any project.

The legislation, which was recommended by the university’s Academic Council, was passed by UCC’s Governing Authority by 16 votes to 15. The decision means that the university has become the first third-level institution in the country to conduct embryonic stem-cell research.

In the internal legislative process, the Governing Council are permitted to send back the regulations to Academic Council for re-working, however, it was decided to accept the recommendation so that it became university policy.

A committee with relevant expertise will now be established and will advise on the scientific merit of the hESC research. They will also advise on the repository from which it is proposed the cell lines will be imported, including protocols for deposit, storage and distribution of the cell lines. The procedures used in acquiring the cells to guarantee informed consent of the donors and the absence of any payment to the donors will also be examined.

This decision by UCC comes in the aftermath of another research controversy at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), regarding the use of vivisection testing on animals. Various animal right activists have criticised TCD and accused the university of choosing vivisection because it is a cheaper method of research.