Report Number: 006 document 4
March 11, 2002
The Honourable Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Health
16 th Floor, Brooke Claxton Building
Postal Locator 0915A
Ottawa , Ontario
RE: Guidelines of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research on Human Stem Cell Research
Dear Ms. McLellan,
I am writing on behalf of the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada to express some concerns about the guidelines on embryonic stem cell research recently released by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR). These guidelines make recommendations that are of enormous significance for public policy in Canada. Yet the process by which those recommendations came into being is in our view deeply flawed. It was a relatively closed process with minimal public consultation. Given this it is not surprising that the recommendations produced fail to reflect the reality of public debate in Canada.
We are aware that there are significant benefits to be gained from embryonic stem cell research, but the report accompanying the guidelines does not give adequate weight to the debate concerning the necessity of using embryonic stem cells, nor does it really give sufficient attention to the benefits to be gained from working with stem cell lines drawn from adult tissues. While embryonic stem cells offer the possibility of developing lines that can be widely used with significant commercial benefit, adult stem cells offer the possibility of developing clinical treatments using autologous tissues, an approach that might vastly reduce both problems of rejection and long term costs associated with such treatments.
In addition, it is our view that the moral status of the embryo is one that receives inadequate attention in the CIHR recommendations. While the 14 day limit is based on important facts of developmental biology, there needs to be debate as to whether the appearance of the earliest stages of the central nervous system is an adequate line for the moral distinctions that will be hung on it. Nonetheless, the real problem is that the CIHR working group felt it could make recommendations in this area without addressing the issue of the moral status of the early embryo. Frankly, if a moral status is implied in the conclusions of the CIHR report, and it is, then the moral status needed to be addressed. What is troubling to us with regard to this matter is that the working group felt it was enough to say that their position was consistent with other Canadian and international guidelines, despite the fact that they too rest on conclusions about the status of the early embryo that have never been demonstrably reached, or even adequately argued for. Of course, this will mean entry into an area of intense moral debate – but that is surely what is necessary if the guidelines are to enjoy widespread support from all communities in Canada.