EU: EHF calls for elimination of religious influence on stem cell research

The European Humanist Federation has called for religious influence on EU-funded research to be eliminated.  At present, funding of research using embryonic stem cells is banned – the result of religious lobbying when the current framework was agreed.  The Catholic church, in its response to a new and wide-ranging EU consultation on the framework for future scientific research, has said the ban should be maintained and even extended.  It has even called for research to be commissioned specially designed to back up its own committed (and heavily disputed) view of the importance of the so-called “traditional family”.

In response, the EHF says:

Scientific research, whatever one’s ambitions for it, should be conceived and conducted as an open research for truth, with a determination to follow the evidence. It is not scientific to seek to validate pre?conceived conclusions decided in advance by the agenda of organisations or political representatives aimed at legitimizing specific political or philosophical positions. The contribution of the Roman Catholic Church through its representatives (COMECE) to the “Common Strategic Framework for future EU Research and Innovation Funding” is a blatant illustration of this kind of instrumentalization: the Bishops propose that the EU should sponsor research to deliver empirical proofs of their own contested view of the social efficiency of « traditional » families by comparison with other « intrinsically instable » family structures. No one with any notion of how scientific research is conducted could possibly make such a self?serving proposal.

As to stem cell research, the EHF says:

We wish to make one very specific and concrete proposal. We urge most emphatically that there should be no continuation of the current block on EU support for research using embryonic stem cells. The ban of such funding in the 7th Framework Program adopted in 2006 is almost entirely the result of pressure from the Roman Catholic Bishops. Their reasoning was (and still is) based on the Catholic religious doctrine of the personhood of the embryo from the moment of fertilisation. In their response to the consultation on the “Common Strategic Framework”, the Bishops say:

Human embryonic stem cells, in fact, can be extracted only from human embryos used for this purpose and then discarded, and thus treated as pure laboratory material, in violation of their dignity as human beings and therefore their natural right to life. The Church champions the defence of the inherent dignity of all members of the human community and thus the sanctity of the lives of everyone of us, whose value is never diminished even in its most vulnerable stages at the beginning and end of life .

Their premise is that human life starts at conception and should immediately have the full protection accorded to everyone after birth. This leads naturally and without argument to their rejection of embryonic stem cell research ? and also to their rejection of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).  Just as with their rejection of contraception and abortion, the premise is religious. And just as with IVF, contraception and abortion, it is a doctrine that has been rejected not only by the huge majority of society but also by a substantial proportion of the Church’s own congregation.

None of this means that arguments from respect for life and for human dignity are illegitimate: far from it, but they need to be pursued in ways that are comprehensible ? and contestable ? by everyone, not based on unquestionable religious doctrine, and that starts from the facts.

For the full text of the EHF’s submission, see here.

European Humanist Federation | 29th November 2011

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