AT THIS stage the Government needs all the support it can get and from whatever quarter. Here's how it can win some support from the still significant bloc of pro-life voters in this country: pass a law banning embryo research. If it won't do it, then Fine Gael should go after that bloc by putting its own human life protection Bill before the Oireachtas.
As it is, Senator Ronan Mullen will be proposing his own Bill. That should make it easy for both the Government and the opposition. All they have to do is support it. If they don't support it, it will be very interesting to see what reasons they advance for such a stance.
A law banning embryo research has been made necessary by the extraordinary decision of UCC this week to carry out such research, or more precisely to conduct research on stem cells taken from human embryos.
At this point, you might be asking how such research can take place in Ireland because we have a constitution that protects the life of the unborn and an embryo surely falls into that category.
But two acts of legal and philosophical alchemy are being used to rob research embryos of such protection and to justify embryo research taking place in UCC.
The first is to define such embryos as not unborn. To be born you must be in a womb. If you're not in a womb, if instead you're in a lab, then you're not unborn because you can't be born. Get it?
The second step that will allow UCC to carry out such research without (they hope) falling foul of the Constitution is to import stem cells from embryos that were produced overseas and are already dead. In other words, they think that by outsourcing the killing they can evade our law and overcome any of the ethical problems that bedevils research like this.
To you and me, it is clear that if we hire someone else to do our dirty work for us we're still guilty of the act but for some reason this isn't clear to those at UCC who backed this decision. Maybe their mighty brains can see something not apparent to the rest of us.
In the end, the governing body of UCC approved embryo research by a single vote. Because of the secretive nature of the process, it was only at the last minute that the Pro-Life Campaign got wind of the fact that such a vote was taking place.
If they had known about it sooner, they probably could have swung one or two others against the research and defeated the thing.
Very well, UCC has done what it has done.
It has decided to try to carry the country across this particular moral rubicon.
It is now up to the politicians to stop them.
Will they? They might not if they are persuaded either that there are more votes to be lost than gained by taking such an action, or if they can be persuaded that embryo stem cell research really is the Holy Grail of medicine.
But only if they truly have lost touch with the electorate will they be able to persuade themselves that they will lose more votes than they gain by banning embryo research.
During the Lisbon campaign they didn't think abortion would be a big issue. They now know that it was, rightly or wrongly. So that vote is still out there and it is definitely bigger than the bloc of voters who are so strongly in favour of embryo research that they would ditch any party which banned it.
As for the notion that embryo stem cell research is the Holy Grail of medicine, it's barely even the Da Vinci Code.
The claims made in favour of its curative powers have been completely overblown and have raised false and unrealisable hope in many cases -- for example, that it will lead to a cure for Alzheimer's. But 'The Washington Post' back in 2004 reported that, "stem cell experts confess . . . that of all the diseases that may be someday cured by embryonic stem cell treatments, Alzheimer's is among the least likely to benefit".
This is something you don't hear too often.
In countries like America and Britain, disability groups have been cruelly exploited to persuade politicians to back embryo research. Our politicians would do better than to fall for fairytales of miracle cures.
In any case, there are far more sources of stem cells than the human embryo; and since last year, embryo-like stem cells can be derived from sources other than embryos. In other words, UCC's decision is unethical, behind the times and needless. At no level is it justifiable.
Therefore, our politicians must act against this decision. They have nothing to lose and much to gain.
They will not impede science by banning embryo research. There is no good reason to hold back. Do it now.