Embryonic Stem Cell Research – Ministry of Health

Presented to the Ministry of Health

“The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.) represents the interests of non-theistic people in New Zealand. We seek to build a more humane society based on human and other natural values. New Zealand census figures indicate that 25% of the population have no religious beliefs and that 40% of New Zealanders have not indicated any specific religious belief.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand supports allowing surplus in vitro fertilisation embryos to be used in research. It also supports the creation of embryos specifically for research to be used in medical experiments. The Society supports allowing the use of established human embryonic stem cell lines in research. The stance we support is identified as the fourth position in terms of the stem cells discussion document. We would wish to make an oral submission on the proposed guidelines.

The Society considers that similar legislation and procedures to the United Kingdom regarding embryonic stem cell research are appropriate for New Zealand. New Zealand has cultural and historical links to the United Kingdom that suggest that what is acceptable law in the United Kingdom would be acceptable in New Zealand.

We disagree with the suggested guidelines in restricting stem cell research to surplus in vitro fertilisation embryos only. This is because this would impede the finding of treatments for debilitating ailments such as stroke, heart attack, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. We would want scientists to be able to create stem cells lines here in New Zealand and not be forced to pay other people overseas to provide them.

Generally, the Humanist Society of New Zealand also supports the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) cloning for therapeutic purposes as this can provide significant health benefits. We consider that embryonic stem cell research can be of great benefit to all humanity. However, as with other medical experiments there is a need for reasonable ethical safeguards and these are demonstrated in countries like the United Kingdom.

Some religious people are strongly for embryonic stem cell research while other religious people are strongly against it. In situations like this, the government should allow researchers and donors to produce embryos for research, if it is their choice and the embryos used are in the early stages of development. This is consistent with allowing New Zealanders freedom of religion or belief and freedom from religion.

Embryonic stem cell research does not involve harming anything that resembles a person. Since there is no harm being done to a person scientists should be able to create embryos for research purposes.

Currently, we allow the artificial creation and destruction of early embryos as part of fertility treatments. The destruction of embryos happens with fertility treatment when surplus embryos are no longer required. New Zealanders generally find this to be morally acceptable as helping couples with fertility promotes the public good. This is consistent with freedom of religion or belief as people can choose to undergo in vitro fertilisation or not. Likewise, we should also allow the artificial creation and destruction of early embryos for stem cell research to help find treatments for diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. This is because finding treatments for diseases also promotes the public good.”

An abridged statement by Christopher Reeve on stem cells:

Christopher Reeve suffered paralysis after an accident. People in this circumstance may be helped in future by embryonic stem cell research now.

“We must pursue research on embryonic stem cells.

A critical factor will be what we do with human embryonic stem cells. These cells have the potential to cure diseases and conditions ranging from Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis to diabetes and heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, even spinal-cord injuries like my own. They have been called the body’s self-repair kit.

Fortunately, stem cells are readily available and easily harvested. In fertility clinics, women are given a choice of what to do with unused fertilized embryos: they can be discarded, donated to research or frozen for future use.

But why has the use of discarded embryos for research suddenly become such an issue? Is it more ethical for a woman to donate unused embryos that will never become human beings, or to let them be tossed away as so much garbage when they could help save thousands of lives?

Treatment with stem cells has already begun. They have been taken from umbilical cords and become healthy red cells used to cure sickle-cell anemia. Stem cell therapy is also being used against certain types of cancer. But those are cells that have significantly differentiated; that is, they are no longer pluripotent, or capable of transforming into other cell types. For the true biological miracles that researchers have only begun to foresee, medical science must turn to undifferentiated stem cells. We need to clear the path for them as rapidly as possible.

While we prolong the stem cell debate, millions continue to suffer. It is time to harness the power of government and go forward.”