Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction

The Commission for Assisted Human Reproduction, (CAHR), was established in 2001 by the Minister for Health and Children, Mr. Micheál Martin, TD. It was charged with preparing a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all aspects of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy in this area.

On Thursday 6th February 2003, the Commission held a public conference, the purpose of which was “to explore some of the social, ethical and legal factors involved.” Approximately 150 people attended.

The Conference was opened by Mr. Micheál Martin TD, and was chaired by John Bowman of RTE’s Questions and Answers. An introduction was given by Prof Dervilla Donnelly, Emeritus Prof. of Organic Chemistry who has been appointed as Chairperson of the CAHR. Also on the Board of the CAHR is Ms. Geraldine Luddy who was also Director of the Women´s Health Council, a government funded body, which received at least €1.9m in funds from the taxpayer and which, in its submissions to the government, has a liberal attitude to abortion.

The Terms of Reference for the Commission were: "to prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all aspects of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy and in this area."

But, as one person who spoke from the floor pointed out, the panel of invited speakers was not very representative of anything but those who had a vested commercial interest in AHR. People representing English commercial interests in assisted human reproduction, and in embryo destruction and abuse, dominated the panel.

Baroness Warnock, whose 1984 report led to legislation for research on human embryos in Britain, was a guest speaker. She remains committed to embryo research. She told the House of Lords in January, 2003 that she now regretted her report’s use of the term "respect for the embryo.” In a debate on the House of Lords Select Committee report on stem cell research, Baroness Warnock said: "You cannot respectfully pour something down the sink - which is the fate of the embryo after it has been used for research, or if it is not going to be used for research, or for anything else. I think that what we meant by the rather foolish expression ‘respect’ was that the early embryo should never be used frivolously for research purposes."

At the CAHR Conference in Dublin Castle, Baroness Warnock made it clear that she did not accept the idea of rights for the unborn, especially at an early stage. She unexpectedly left the conference early; perhaps because of the level of opposition she was getting from members of the general public attending the conference.

John Rogers SC made the point that the starting point for all discussions on the subject of assisted human reproduction was Art 40.3.3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the right to life of the unborn. He accepted that the unborn had some protection but argued that unborn applied to the embryo only after implantation and that the people did not take into consideration in-vitro fertilisation during the 1983 referendum. Audience members pointed out that the 2002 referendum wording had tried to push through that definition of unborn as being “after implantation” and that the people had rejected this. It was also pointed out to him that Louise Brown, the first test tube baby was born in 1978, 5 years before the 1983 wording was voted on and IVF had been understood and debated during that referendum.

Dr Brendan Purcell, lecturer in anthropological philosophy in UCD, said that the Irish language version of the Constitution gave the "unborn" as "beo gan breith. ”This clearly did cover unimplanted embryos.

"If an embryo is not a human being, what do we understand human to be? "There is no philosophical reason for denying to any embryo the respect due to adult human beings. "Should the right to a child ever take away the right of a child to be born?" He said that in certain in-vitro fertilisation procedures and experimental cloning, up to 95% of the created embryos were destroyed. The Medical Council guidelines made it professional misconduct to create embryos for experimental purposes and he would like to see this expanded into law.

Dr. Anne McLaren said that if the term unborn was held to be from conception this would have serious implications for current IVF practice because such practice "always involves the destruction of embryos", though this was subsequently contradicted from the floor by Prof. Bonnor and others.

It was unfortunate that, even though the vast majority of Irish people are against abortion and believe life begins at conception, only one speaker on the panel, Brendan Purcell, put a strong case against assisted human reproduction. The audience, by a large majority, shared his opinion.

The Commission issued a 170 page report in March 2005

By July 2006, Mary Harney, Minister for Health, passed the report of the Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction (CAHR) to the Oireachtas Committee on Health, which established a 3 person subcommittee to advise on it.

While this subcommittee are enthusiastic regarding much of the extraordinary and dreadful recommendations made by the CAHR they have said that: “there are some recommendations that we are simply unable to comment upon because they centre upon the whole issue of when life begins, and that is not in the remit of our committee to decide on”.