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"Indifferent" response from Minister Stephen Donnelly over EU allowing sale of human embryos

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has been accused of showing indifference in his response to the EU legislating for the sale of human embryos and other bioproducts, according to Independent TD Carol Nolan.

On 12 September in Strasbourg, MEPS voted to adopt the report on the new rules governing the use of “substances of human origin” (SoHO) intended for human application in the European Union, by 483 votes in favour, to 52 votes against, and 89 abstentions. 

The regulations, if brought into law, would mean human embryos would be classed as “substances of human origin,” similarly to human blood cells or a piece of skin. This could pave the way for the trade of foetuses for the first time in the EU. 

Only one Irish MEP voted against the proposals, which was Luke Ming Flanagan, an Independent MEP who sits in parliament with The Left in the European Union.


How did the Irish MEP's vote?

Barry Andrews (Fianna Fáil), Deirdre Clune (Fine Gael), Ciaran Cuffe (Green Party), Clare Daly (Independent – Left), Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael), Sean Kelly (Fine Gael), Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fáil), Colm Markey (Fine Gael), Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party), Mick Wallace (Independent – Left), and Maria Walsh (Fine Gael) all voted in favour.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was asked by Independent TD Carol Nolan, in a Parliamentary Question, if his Department supported the decision of the European Parliament to adopt the EU framework to allow for the sale of human embryos and other bioproducts, through its approval of the new rules of the management of SoHO. 

The Laois Offaly TD also asked the Minister if his Department “contributed any policy analysis or objections to this proposal prior to the vote”; and if he would make a statement on the matter. 

In a response received on Tuesday, the Minister for Health did not express any level of concern over the proposals to Deputy Nolan, stating that they would mean “strengthening standards of quality and safety” for “substances of  human origin.”

Speaking today, the Laois Offaly TD questioned how the sale of human embryos could elicit “so indifferent” a response.

“Where have we arrived at when a question on the sale of human embryos elicits so indifferent a response?” Deputy Nolan said today.

Minister Donnelly said in response to her parliamentary question: “In July 2022, the European Commission submitted the proposal for a Regulation on standards of quality and safety for substances of human origin (SoHO) intended for human application.

“Repealing Directives 2002/98/EC and 2004/23/EC, the proposal combines provisions on blood, tissues and cells in a broader legal framework covering and strengthening standards of quality and safety for all substances of human origin (except organs), including those previously unregulated at EU level. 

“The proposal also supports the continued provision of SoHO therapies, now and in the future, based on high safety and quality standards and up-to-date technical rules; extends protective measures to new groups of patients, to donors and to offspring born from assisted human reproduction;aims to improve harmonisation across Member States, facilitating cross-border exchange of SoHO and improving patient access to the therapies they need.”

He added that the proposal creates conditions for safe, effective and accessible innovation in a unique sector driven by public health services, and voluntary and unpaid donations; improves crisis preparedness and resilience to safeguard access to therapies, and  implements digital-ready policies.”

He said that the regulation “will allow Member States to introduce more stringent measures for the regulation of SoHO if required”, adding: “The proposed Regulation is currently under discussion in parallel by the Council and the European Parliament, and the final text has not yet been agreed or adopted.”

Deputy Nolan said she was “stunned” that the Minister did not make reference specifically to the sale of human embryos.

“I am genuinely stunned that Minister Donnelly did not see fit to make even the slightest specific reference in his reply to this aspect to the impending EU regulations."

“There is a moral and ethical reductionism at play here that is simply appalling. No amount of deviant linguistic gameplaying can hide the true nature of this dreadful proposal that will enable the sale of human beings at the earliest stage of their existence.

“There is no other word for it. This is a form of regulatory depravity that should shame the EU and all of those who supported this element of the new law.”

Independent TD Carol NolanWhile concern appears to be lacking from Ireland’s Health Minister, bioethicists and Catholic church leadership have been among those to voice serious concerns over the regulations. Secretary General of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), Fr. Manuel Barrios-Prieto warned that the move could “degrade the dignity” of human life. 

“The danger lies in the possibility that  such a definition may degrade the dignity and value of human life, creating an unacceptable equivalence between embryos and foetuses and simple skin cells or blood plasma,” Fr. Barrios-Prieto said.

Meanwhile, Hungarian MEP for the government party Fidesz, Kinga Gál, told Hungary today that the classification of embryos as “human substance” was unacceptable. While she said she was unable to participate in the vote because of her commitments in Budapest, the MEP said she was “totally against the classification of human embryos as substances of human origin.”

She said that because the EP draft text states that various medical issues and measures implemented in EU member states must be respected to the maximum, “the broad protection of human foetuses in Hungary, as laid down at the highest legal level, in the Fundamental Law, cannot be affected in any way by the EP proposal”.

The Life Institute were among those to voice strong objection to the proposals in Ireland. The pro-life organisation described the vote as “a measure of how human life has become utterly devalued.”

“Selling human embryos – human beings at the start of their lives is simply morally wrong – and the deliberate destruction of human embryos because they have a disability should obviously be seen as eugenics. We need to rebuild a culture of life where the right to life is once seen as a fundamental right – not just something afforded to the perfect, the planned and the privileged,” a spokeswoman for the group said.


Maria Maynes

This article was first published in Gript and is published here with permission

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