Bishops attack embryos Bill

by
26 March 2008

By Bill Bowder

"Frankensteins monsters": Cardinal Keith O'Brien denounces the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in his homily in St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, on Easter Day PA

"Frankensteins monsters": Cardinal Keith O'Brien denounces the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in his homily in St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh...

CHURCH of England and Roman Catholic bishops joined ranks this week to oppose the Government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which would allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research.

Their position differs from the one taken last June by the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, which gave the research a cautious backing in its response to a consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The Council agreed that the Authority should be able to license research using cytoplasmic hybrid embryos, “not unconditionally, but subject to provisos”. It said that embryonic material should be destroyed after 14 days, and it opposed the creation of true chimeras, where a human egg was fertilised by a non-human primate or vice versa (News, 29 June and 14 September 2007). These conditions are largely met in the Government’s Bill, now in the House of Lords.

Nevertheless, Lambeth Palace on Wednesday drew attention to an interview given by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Press Assocation in January, when he described the hybrid research as part of a “very instrumentalist view of the human embryo . . . that is my big moral concern”.

In a statement on Monday, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, said that the proposals were “immoral”. Human embryos were potential human beings, “and they should be treated with, at least, some respect.”

In an Easter sermon in Durham Cathedral, the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, said that humans were not evolutionary by-products to be manipulated. He denounced proposals in the Bill as “species-bending” and tyrannical, and as an attempt to create a Brave New World, based on “a belief in the unstoppable human ability to make a better world”.

It was an attempt to “play games” with humanity, he said. “This isn’t a peripheral or denominational concern. It grows directly out of the central facts of our faith.”

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The Bill was also denounced by the RC Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, in an Easter sermon in which he compared the plans to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster.

The Prime Minister appeared on Tuesday to bow to pressure for a free vote on the most controversial aspects of the Bill, the creation of hybrid embryos and “saviour siblings”, and IVF research.

Among those who had applied pressure were the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert; the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor; and, it is understood, RC Cabinet ministers.

Supporters of the Bill, however, have criticised the church leaders’ tactics and position. Lord Winston (Labour) said that Cardinal O’Brien’s statements were “lying” and “misleading”.

In a letter in The Times on Monday, the Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford, Professor Colin Blakemore, said that the Bill was essential to maintain Britain’s lead in stem-cell research for disease prevention. He offered to broker a meeting with concerned bishops.

See Leader

See Paul Vallely

See Dave Walker's blog

Are bishops justified in spreading alarm about the Bill? Vote here

 

See Leader

See Paul Vallely

See Dave Walker's blog

Are bishops justified in spreading alarm about the Bill? Vote here

 

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