THE Church of England and the Church of Scotland take opposing positions on the creation of human-animal hybrid embryonic stem cells in genetic research.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) gave permission last week for the creation of short-term cytoplasmic hybrids that replace genetic material inside a non-human egg with human genetic material.
“Although only one per cent of animal material is involved, the cross-species admixture of reproductive cells poses significant ethical concerns,” the convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, Morag Mylne, said in a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, published on Wednesday of last week.
“Human embryos have a moral status ethically and in law. To create hybrid embryonic entities, including hybrid cloned embryos of mixed human-nonhuman status, is a line that we believe should not be crossed.”
The Kirk was concerned that the HFEA’s decision would pre-empt legislation, specifically the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, the Kirk said in a statement.
But the Church of England stuck to its “considered response” giving support to the creation of such hybrids. In June, the Church’s Mission and Public Affairs Council told the HFEA in its three-month public consultation on the issue that the Council approved cytoplasmic hybrids, provided that they were destroyed after 14 days and research ended after five years if it was getting nowhere (News, 29 June).
But, while reiterating the Church’s support for the creation of cytoplasmic hybrids, a spokesman said: “We are totally opposed to the creation of true animal-human hybrids.”
In an opinion poll conducted for the HFEA during its three-month consultation, 61 per cent of respondents supported the creation of inter-species embryos if that led to improved understanding of disease.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) opposed the change. It said the embryos created would be “essentially human”. “Yet they will be cannibalised and killed for their stem-cells.” The supposed research benefits were being exaggerated, it said.
CARE, a Christian charity, said that the HFEA had no clear mandate in law to back the new research. This was a matter for Parliament to decide.