The Brazilian Supreme Court - which was due last Wednesday to deliver its decision of whether its 2005 national law allowing human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research is constitutional - has delayed the ruling because one of the eleven justices requested more time to consider the matter. The 2005 Attorney General Claudio Fontelles legally challenged that the fifth article of the national Biosecurity Law unconstitutionally violates the right to life.
The law allows ES cell research upon IVF 'surplus' embryos that have been stored for at least three years. The Court was set to decide whether the rights of the embryo are equivalent to personhood, and if this is violated by embryo research on unwanted stored IVF embryos. However, the session was suspended by Justice Carlow Alberto Menezes Direito who requested more time following almost five hours of submissions, including those from current Attorney General Antonio Fernando Souza and a lawyer from Brazil's Roman Catholic Church opposing the research. According to Court procedure he will have 10 to 30 days to present his opinion during another session.
Despite being the world's largest Roman Catholic nation, a January public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Institute found that 95 per cent of Brazilians supported ES cell research. Likewise, a majority of the Supreme Court justices regard themselves as 'Catholic' but it is expected they will vote in favour of the research. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters he supports ES cell research: 'I don't think the world can renounce scientific knowledge that can save mankind from many things'. If the Court approves the law then Brazil, Latin America's largest country, will become the regional leader and will potentially be a significant global leader according to Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Florida-based Genetics Policy Institute.
Catholic officials petitioned the Court to prohibit ES cell research because it entails embryo destruction, which they believe is the moral equivalent to killing a person. 'To save one and kill another is not the answer', stated the President of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha. Rocha fears it is a slippery slope to allowing abortion and condemns the 'manipulation' of peoples' 'desire to live, of their hope to find a cure, with falsified information'. He emphasised that the Church is not anti-science, 'ÉIt is in favour of life,' and supports adult stem cellresearch. Fr. Luiz Carlos Lodi da Cruz, a high-profile pro-life activist, feels that ES cell research denies the humanity of the unborn.
Chamber of Deputies delegate Darcisio Perondi, denies ES cell research amounts to abortion because these embryos will never be implanted in a willing prospective mother. Instead, the research relies on embryos that would otherwise be discarded after three years of storage as laboratory refuse. 'It's preferable that they should be donated for research, because they might result in treatments for many illnesses', he said. Supporters, including Brazilian anthropologist Debora Diniz, acknowledge the significance of the Catholic position to its followers but believes religious beliefs should not dictate state policy. Although ES cell research is currently legal, Brazilian scientists have sidelined studies until the decision decides their fate.
Sources and References
Brazil Court Puts Off Stem Cell Ruling
Brazil Court to Rule on Stem Cells
Brazil's Supreme Court To Decide Fate Of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Supreme Court of Brazil to Issue Opinion on the Personhood of Embryos