Bishop warns: scientists will want more time on embryos

23 April 2008

by Ed Beavan

THE BISHOP of Swindon, Dr Lee Rayfield, believes it is inevitable that scientists will call for an extension to the proposed 14-day limit on embryo research.

The Bishop expressed his concerns during a debate with the Tory MP for Salisbury, Robert Key, in St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London on Tuesday.

Dr Rayfield, who has a scientific background and is a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, described the Government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as “tremendously complex”.

He warned of the danger of the Government’s trying to “future-proof” the legislation, in order to make it longstanding. This would be difficult, he said, given the pace of scientific advance today.

The Bishop backed the cautious approval given by the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council to the 14-day limit, but called for safeguards to be drawn up to cover the type of research to be carried out. He stressed that it should be carried out only on embryos produced asexually.

He also criticised the coverage of the debate on the creation of “cybrid” cells — the result of a fusion of animal cells with a human nucleus. “It’s speculative research: one problem is there’s a lot of hype about what can be possible and what cures are around the corner. We need to be very careful legalising anything, and letting something come under the thrall of hype,” he said.

He said that it was inevitable that scientists would call for extensions to the boundaries of research.

  “I think there’s going to be a push to go beyond the 14 days — that’s the way things go. Scientists will always say: ‘The more we can find out the better it will be.’ But at what cost?

“There’s been a lot of commercial pressure exerted on this thing. Parliamentarians want to see the economy growing, but there’s going to be a need to say, ‘That’s not appropriate.’ I hope we have the moral courage and conviction to say that.”

  Mr Key, a member of the Joint Committee on the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, said that the legislation was “absolutely essential”: “medical breakthroughs often break taboos.”

  He said that human-animal embryos should be welcomed, because they eliminated the need to use scarce human eggs in the fight against diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

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