Global Ethics on Human Embryo Research
By Yeshwant Naik
Today, medical research has shown the potential to prolong and improve people’s lives. This has proved to be valuable for childless couples to become parents. However many of the embryos that are created are sometimes not used to establish a pregnancy. The ethical aspect of such research can therefore be questionable. Ethics of any nation for that matter as to what their researchers do depends very much on the area of research undertaken. Renssealaer Potter first promulgated these ethics in 1970 in order to do research in the preservation of biosphere.
The human embryo research ethics should strike a fair balance between the human embryo research regulation and the strong protection of human rights more specifically the right to health. However, a question may arise for instance, in case a particular person’s fundamental right such as the right to the enjoyment of health could require research on embryos, would this fundamental right prevail over any ban on this kind of research by national authorities who consider in the context of their national society to be contrary to human dignity? If the right to health is used to justify an international regulation, which allows human embryo research, then one must also raise the issue of how other fundamental rights should be protected as against the adverse effects of such human embryo research. This would indeed encourage patients around the world suffering from serious diseases to apply to scientists to engage in cloning for research invoking their right to health. Thus, people with good financial backup will try to benefit from the advantages of such research that may also endanger the respect for basic fundamental right to life. Global bioethics therefore calls us to be accountable for our actions and to realize for ourselves how well society, politics, economies, religious and other traditions as well as our personal lives are in accord with the bioethical principles.
International law is increasingly focused on the drafting of a universal regulation on human embryo research for preserving the human right to health. The protagonists of Global Bioethics are of the opinion that without international institutions with enforcing powers, it is not easy to address the issue of international regulation for human embryo research. A universal regulation of human embryo research and of bioethics in general, is therefore not an easy task. To be successful it has to accommodate and take into confidence different actors, which include not only States but also International Organizations, private groups of people, scientific community, pharmaceutical firms, etc. Nevertheless, it can be predictable that reaching a consensus among all these actors may be rather difficult or impossible.
A few European Union Member States have specific legislation for human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and their use for research. Sweden, UK, Spain and Belgium allow embryo creation for research purposes. However, Czech Republic, Finland, Denmark, France, Greece, Netherlands and Portugal allow the derivation of new hESCs from embryos created as a result of assisted reproduction technology and in vitro fertilization to induce pregnancy, but only when they can no longer be used for that purpose. Germany and Italy have stricter hESC research regulations. On the contrary, Austria, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Ireland, Cyprus, Latvia, Romania, Luxemburg, Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary are among those who have no specific legislation on hESC research. The conflicting public and private interests concerning moral bioethics exist both at international and national level. Opinion No. 19 of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, of 16th March 2004, concerning some aspects of cord blood banking, and particularly, commercial cord blood banks is quite illustrative of the European dilemma in this point placed at local level of some countries like Spain.
The European Community has also made efforts to establish the bioethical foundations of policies and regulations to control the possible risk of commercial applications of new technologies, like, those related to genetic engineering and the environmental release of modified organisms.
The bioethical principles common to all peoples and cultures can be attained by adopting three possible approaches: the cultural imperialism and value absolutism, the value relativism, and the trans culturalism and value reciprocity. The first approach consists of defending and retaining values and imposing them on other cultures for universal application as principles and rules. The second one is to reject the universal validity of values and recognize a plurality of values as the basis for principles and rules in different cultures. The third approach which seems more suitable than the previous ones is to look out for common foundational values which transcend cultures and which could be used to formulate common bioethical principles.
Although in a few countries there are common standards relating to the human cloning and human embryo research, the current legislations pertaining to this subject matter are not so positive and strong enough to achieve an effective legal harmony. Such global issues can be better addressed only in a multilateral way. Research on human embryo can endanger not only human civilization but also violate basic human rights and dignity nevertheless, this should not discourage us from procuring the benefits or advantages of this technology. Since scientific technology moves faster than law, maintaining equilibrium between to the two could be an appropriate remedy. At the same time, it is extremely crucial to investigate as to who would be the most profitable or beneficial party from such research.