Regulation of stem cell research in Ireland

There is no specific legislation dealing with stem cell research in Ireland.

Current legal position

Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that has no regulation for stem cell research. Although embryo research was previously thought to have been banned under the Irish Constitution, the present legal situation is uncertain as a result of the M.R. v T.R. case. In this ‘Frozen Embryos’ case, the Irish Supreme Court in 2009 agreed with a 2006 Irish High Court judgment that embryos held in cryopreservation and created outside the womb are not protected under the Constitution. The Irish Constitution protects “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” in cases of termination of pregnancies rather than the embryos created outside the womb.  


A bill introduced in the Irish parliament in 2008 aimed to ban embryo research in Ireland with criminal penalties but was never passed into law. The bill proposed no regulations for stem cell research and assisted reproduction. Two other bills, including the Human Tissues Bill 2008, that sought to regulate the use, storage and removal of human tissue and materials similarly never became law. In 2009 the Irish Medical Council banned medical practitioners from creating embryos specifically for research.

Ethical and regulatory oversight

The Irish Council of Bioethics (ICB), set up in 2002 to advise as well as consider opinions on scientific and technological issues that may affect human health and society, ceased to operate for financial reasons in 2010. In 2008 the ICB, like the Assisted Human Reproduction Report (2005), recommended that a regulatory authority be set up to oversee licensing and monitoring of research using embryos. Both reports recommended that embryos up to 14 days old could be used for research. The Irish government has also stated its intention to regulate stem cell research in the future.

Relevant laws, policies and links

Researched by

Sean Small

Reviewed by

Ruari Friel