The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has announced that it will allow the creation of living human embryos specifically for research purposes. Although pro-life advocates working to kill the Liberal government’s 2002 Assisted Reproduction Act predicted that embryonic stem cell research with “fresh embryos” would be the next move, even though the bill purported to protect against this type of research, they were roundly criticized as “alarmist” during the debates over the bill. Meanwhile, biotech lobbyists have worked steadily to find ways around the legislation or simply to amend it to get what they wanted: “fresh” embryos made to order purely for research purposes. And now they have gotten what they wanted.

The National Post reported that the project has been approved with a $523,000 budget. It will be led by researchers in Toronto and will involve teams in Vancouver and Hamilton. The goal is to cultivate embryonic stem cells both from embryos “left over” and frozen after IVF treatments and to create in-vitro embryos specifically to be killed for their cells.

The Post says Canadian ethicists working on the issue are not concerned with the moral status of the embryos themselves. The issues raised last year, when a moratorium was called for on embryonic research, surrounded the rights of women not to be exploited for their ova and fears of coercion. Consent forms for parents of embryos have to include all possible options and state clearly that the embryos will die as a result of the work.

A lead researcher in the group, Dr. Andras Nagy, told the paper he sees nothing wrong with the research. “There are embryos going down the drain all the time,” Nagy said. “It’s a biological waste.”

Campaign Life Coalition, which led the fight against the bill, is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who opposed the legislation, to stop the research and focus Canadian funds instead on ethically unproblematic adult stem cells. “I expect Mr. Harper and the federal government to rein in the CIHR, which at this time answers to the minister of health but not the government,” said Mary Ellen Douglas, CLC national organizer.

In a letter sent to the prime minister, CLC requested the government proceed expeditiously to enact regulations for the CIHR, so that human life is respected at all stages, to ensure that tax dollars are not used in immoral research that destroys human life at the embryonic stage and cease immediately any research on human embryos.

The CIHR has frankly acknowledged it considers the human being at the embryonic stage as having no inherent moral status and that it can and should be used for research. The only ethical requirement acknowledged by Canada’s leading bioethicists is that the parents, or “donors,” of the embryos give consent.

CLC national president Jim Hughes told The Interim he is frustrated with the continued push for embryonic stem cell research, when ethical stem cell research taken from ethical sources has demonstrated itself to be useful in clinical trials. Embryonic stem cells have not.

“There has never been one incident where embryonic stem cells have succeeded in helping another person, but there are reports almost every day about amazing success stories when somatic or adult stem cells are used,” said Hughes.

With files from