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Catholics Are Right about Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill

I cannot think of anything else that so commands one's grasp of morality, of right versus wrong, as the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill. It represents one of the biggest opportunities for British lawmakers to vote their conscience since the 2003 Iraq War consensus.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will allow ministers to vote their conscience by allowing a free vote on the bill. Originally, Mr. Brown refused such a vote. However, ministers will still be highly expected to vote the party line, thus supporting the Labour Government in passing the law. Brown and other Bill supporters assert that it will lead to major advances in medicine and the treatment of fatal diseases. Human-animal hybrid embryos are to be used to this end.

Catholic ministers objected, and they were supported by the Roman Catholic church which attacked the proposed Bill. Many churchmen used their Easter sermons to criticize the legislation.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said, "I think Catholics in politics have got to act according to their Catholic convictions … Certainly, there are some aspects of this Bill on which I believe there ought to be a free vote, because Catholics and others will want to vote according to their conscience. I don't think it should be subject to the party whip."

Facing a rebellion that threatened to escalate into a serious crisis, Brown gave in to the free vote. Refusing a vote of conscience to Catholic ministers (and others who desired a vote of conscience) could have sown a rebellion, with resignations possibly ensuing, thus undermining Brown's authority. Also, with Labour down in the polls, Brown reckoned now was not the time to assert said authority.

Former Labour Cabinet minister Stephen Byers warned of the possible backlash. "The public will look on in disbelief," Byers said, "if a matter as sensitive as the creation of human-animal embryos is made a matter of party policy with the Government instructing its MPs (ministers) how to vote."

The dissension over the Bill has sparked a war of words between its supporters and the Church. Cardinal Keith O'Brien denounced the legislation as "a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life." O'Brien also asserted that the Bill would allow for experiments of "Frankenstein proportion."

Fertility expert and Labour peer Lord Robert Winston, however, replied that: "His statements are lying. They are misleading and I'm afraid that when the Church, for good motives, tells untruths, it brings discredit upon itself … [I]t will be destroying its probity with overblown statements of this kind."

I stand with the Catholics on this matter. The proposed Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill is indeed, in O'Brien's words, a monstrous attack on human dignity. Earth-shattering enough that human DNA would be inserted into animal cells for research, but the legislation would also allow for "spare parts," where a sibling embryo would be created, having been tested for compatibility with a child suffering from a serious medical condition, simply for the purpose of using its tissue to treat the ill child. On the surface, that certainly seems like a marvelous advance. But does this not ultimately treat the child as a commodity rather than a human being?

The Church's — and my — view is that just because mankind can do something awesome doesn't necessarily mean he should do it. What future horrors will science visit upon us, under the placating title of "research," and should we perhaps consider not playing God? Catholic MP Stephen Pound has said, "We seem to be moving into a sphere where we are actually taking on the role of the creation of life." I totally agree. It behooves us to leave the management of life to nature or God, whichever one chooses to believe in.

There is another aspect to the Bill that is troubling. The legislation, to its credit, would reduce the 24-week limit on abortions to 20 weeks. But women being counseled for fertilization would not be asked about the baby's father nor encouraged to seek a father involved in the child's care and upbringing. The "need for a father," which is the current law regarding the approval of patients for fertilization treatment and which the Goverment considers discriminatory, will simply be changed to "the need for supportive parenting." Fatherhood would be enshrined by law as nothing more than a commodity, a father's important role in bringing up a child rendered moot. This bill would be a victory for militant feminists, but a huge loss to men everywhere. This would have to represent the biggest threat to fatherhood in recent memory.

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  • PaulineG

    Mark,

    Thank you for your comments on this wretched Bill. I’ve been following this quite closely for some months so three points, if I may:

    ONE: The Bill would not only allow the insertions of human DNA into animal cells. It will, in fact, also permit the combining of human egg and animal sperm and vice versa. There seems to be an extraordinary conspiracy of silence on this in the media. In fact some, the BBC for example, still claim that this will remain prohibited. It won’t.(See Clause 4 of the Bill on the Parliament website.)

    TWO: The legislation is actually silent on abortion. It is expected that both sides of the great divide will table amendments. But don’t expect any aimed at reducing the number of abortions to enjoy Government favour. That is most unlikely. Have you seen the reports today about babies surviving late abortions?

    THREE: You know what? I reckon the removal of the “need for a father” provision will not just be a huge loss for men. I reckon the greatest loss of all will be to the children. Fathers are never going to be expendable. They are absolutely key.

    Regards,

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    Just to clarify this article (which doesn’t go into any real depth on the details) – according to the information I’ve read regarding development of admixed embryos (an embryo with human and animal material) was that “the embryos do not develop beyond 14 days. By using animal eggs rather than human eggs, which are in short supply, scientists hope to refine their techniques for producing stem cells. Those are then used to study diseases at the cellular level, allowing scientists to develop potential treatments and cures.”

    The law prohibiting continuing these embryos beyond 14 days stands, as does the law prohibiting emplantation in a womb (human or animal). Any research using these admixed embryos further must be licensed.

    I think if you are going to front an article on this contraversy, you might want to incorporate all the facts…

    You might also note that despite the Church’s claims that the public doesn’t support using admixed embryos, public opinion surveys are finding support at rooughly 60% in favour.

  • Baronius

    Mark – I was unfamiliar with this story. I suspect I’m like a lot of Americans, and have despaired of any morals in Europe. Does the Catholic Church garner much notice in England? Has the Anglican Church taken any position on the legislation?

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    My opinion is that it is offensive that a religious cult tries to interfere in matters of this kind. The argument that it is a moral issue is as laughable as all the other lies this group produces.

    There is nothing moral about an organisation built on lies.

  • PaulineG

    Deano,

    Since you are interested in facts, you might be interested in these:

    ONE: According to a Sunday Times article, this Bill is based on a Report from the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology. From the description it is clear that it is their 2005 Report on ” Reproductive Technologies and the Law”. The Conclusions and Recommendations section of this makes interesting reading. Not everything recommended is reflected in the Bill. But does that mean it is not on the agenda for later?

    Their 7th recommendation reads:

    “We have been told that the 14-day rule is an arbitrary cut off point. For many, even those who support assisted reproduction and embryo research, an extension to the 14-day rule would be unacceptable. We accept that there is no case at present for an extension, or indeed reduction. However, we believe that, if scientists or clinicians were able to provide convincing justification for any change, this should be determined by Parliament.”

    The veneer of balance is exposed by the invitation to seek change being limited to “scientists and clinicians”.

    So, once the dust has settled on this Bill AND science has progressed to the point where such entities can be kept alive that long expect to hear a call for an extension to that limit, coupled with accusations that those who protest are impeding the search for cures for dreadful diseases.

    TWO: Please do not disregard my earlier warning that this Bill also legalises the mixing of human sperm and animal egg. This is an extract from the Bill:

    “Clause 4 (2)
    (2) No person shall–
    (a) mix human gametes with animal gametes,
    (b) bring about the creation of a human admixed embryo, or
    (c) keep or use a human admixed embryo,
    except in pursuance of a licence.”

    This may be easily checked on the Parliament website.

    In other words human and animal gametes may be mixed under licence on the same terms as the cytoplasmic hybrid embryos (“cybrids”) more widely discussed. What you have read elsewhere is not the full story.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    The bill stinks, but it is no surprise to me. Merry England has been going down the moral toilet for quite some time, and this is just one more step along the slippery path to depravity.

    The Europeans are all slipping and sliding down the same “liberated” road to hell…..

  • JustOneMan

    BREAKING STORY…..

    “Ruvy Makes Sane, Rationale and Insiightful Comment and JOM Agrees 100%”

    Now back to our regularly scheduled inane positings and bickering…..

    JOM

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    I understand your concerns regarding the future permutations or changes to both research practices and the law and I have no issues with keeping a weather eye on all of the scientific practices…

    However I will note that the only practical result of banning the practice in the UK will be to drive development of the technology and the science offshore to less regulated environments.

    I think you would be better served (and more able to manage and control the type of science being done) with the Bill implemented. At least in that case the licensing, the 14-day limits etc. are under some level of public, legal and moral scrutiny and debate. Otherwise you simply drive the researchers into less savory alternatives or offshore to work in loosely regulated markets.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    The Jewish Chronicle, Britain’s establishment Jewish newspaper, reports that Rabbis back embryo bill as a life-saver.

    The “reform” and “liberal” (what American Jews call “conservative”) rabbis give the expected endorsement. Surprising to me, an “orthodox” normative principal of a high school says, “What they are doing is not capable of sustaining life and they can’t nurture it into an embryo, therefore I can’t see that there is any prohibition from a halachic point of view.”

    While strictly speaking, he is not wrong, it is surprising that the branch of the faith that attempts to fence in the Torah to prevent sin is so willing to skate so close to the sin of attempting to create life as though we humans were ourselves G-d. In my own opinion, what stinks about all this is the mixing of animal DNA into human. While the bill does not provide for nurturing an embryo, it would not surprise me to see some scientist do just that and say “I made real scientific progress – now dare arrest me!”

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    Baronius: Europe is virtually without morals; its “Constitution,” which they’re trying to force down everyone’s throats for a second time (after it got defeated in Dutch and French referendums the first time), is based on the accumulation of raw power. No shred of morality went into it.
    However, here in Britain, there are about five million Catholics. They’ve lost battles in the past, because they spoke up too late, so now they’ve learned from their mistakes and are holding the Government’s feet to the fire on this, even though the actual vote on the Bill won’t take place until May or June.

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    “[I]is offensive that a religious cult tries to interfere in matters of this kind. The argument that it is a moral issue is as laughable as all the other lies this group produces. There is nothing moral about an organisation built on lies.”

    Chris, Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church is a cult. The Branch Davidians were a cult. Scientology is a cult.
    The Catholic Church is exactly that — a church. I’m not a Catholic, and I have my issues with the church too. But I always view them as a legitimate religion to contend with.
    I suspect that if the issue was giving Muslims a free vote on anti-terror legislation, you’d have nothing to say about that. But when Catholics want to vote their consciences on a Bill that might very well set a very dangerous precedent as to how we regard human life, you think it’s wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.
    Quite aside from the Catholics, Chris, do you honestly think legislation should be stomped through with no debate? That the Prime Minister should expect unwavering support for whatever piece of legislation he supports, to just shut up and support the Party? Again, I’m sure you weren’t complaining when Claire Short and Robin Cook resigned over Iraq. This is an issue that commands as great a matter of conscience, and free votes and open debate should be allowed on it. If Catholics in Parliament want to object, they more than have the right to.

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    “Merry England has been going down the moral toilet for quite some time, and this is just one more step along the slippery path to depravity.”

    No argument at all there, Ruvy. This entire island is one big cesspool of “human” depravity.

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    Mark, I don’t see any meaningful distinction between the words “cult” and “church”.

    Whatever they are called, the requirement is to believe in a largely incoherent theory that is completely lacking in substance. For that, all their arguments are intolerable intrusions into government.

    What next, deciding government policy based on astrology? Oh wait, the Blairs and the Reagans already did that!

    I would object to any voting along religious lines, regardless of the religion or the policy.

    I don’t see why this line of medical research needs such tight governmental regulation at all.

    As to your other points, I don’t agree that Europe is without values at all, but I know you have a real bee in your bonnet about this issue, so see no reason to debate it. Just try not to give in to that pessimism all the time.

  • STM

    MEM says: “No argument at all there, Ruvy. This entire island is one big cesspool of “human” depravity”.

    Unlike the US, where everyone’s a goody two shoes and there’s not a shred of depravity anywhere!

    I’ve offered you a resolution to this before, Mark.

    I can get a few mates to have a whip-round for you at the Punch and Judy so that you can buy a one-way fare back to Boston.

    Once everyone’s listened to what you have to say, I’d reckon you’d be out of there in five minutes clutching an airline ticket, without even having to buy a beer.

    And yes, five million baptised Catholics … plenty more who are “lapsed” and from Catholic families who no longer worship.

    They still believe all the Irish superstitions though.

    So mate, don’t make too many hang dog faces while showing your disgust of that fair island, just in case the wind changes.

  • STM

    But I’m with Manning on the Church.

    The Church is not a cult, Rosey. Far from it.

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    You are welcome to your own view on that Stan, but I looked up the definition and got

    “Definitions of cult on the Web:

    * adherents of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices
    * fad: an interest followed with exaggerated zeal; “he always follows the latest fads”; “it was all the rage that season”
    * a system of religious beliefs and rituals; “devoted to the cultus of the Blessed Virgin”
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

    * In religion and sociology, a cult is a term designating a cohesive group of people (generally, but not exclusively a relatively small and recently founded religious movement) devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be outside the mainstream or …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult”.

    I’d contend that the Catholic Church falls within those parameters.

  • STM

    I wouldn’t extacly say the Church is outside the mainstream Rosey. It IS the mainstream across the world, including in this country which is not anglo-saxon but anglo-celtic, because of the roughly equal numbers of English/Scots/Welsh (as one group) and Irish who washed up here early doors.

    This place is abolutely chock-a-block with catholics, catholic churches and catholic schools (and all the better for it too!!).

    You’ve just spent how many years in Spain, one of the great spreaders of Catholicism across the globe?

    So your anlysis falls down in one key area. A very key one.

    Of course, none of any of these issues gives Manning the right to slag off Pommyland, however.

    He’s a Yank – and unlike me, he has no right.

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    You’re missing my point, Stan. Whilst it is true that the Catholic church has disproportionate access to and influence over the mainstream of UK society (and that of other countries too), it is actually a minority organisation.

    The most recent data I’ve found say “Figures for 2005 show that there are 4.2 million Catholics in England and Wales, under one fifth the 25 million baptised Anglicans and double the number of Muslims.”

    These are figures for members, not churchgoers, which is about 20% so, even adding the whole lot of them together, you get to around half the UK population.

    Clearly the majority of us are not afflicted by this what I see as a corrupt dogma so it is therefore a cult, albeit still a very rich and powerful one.

    This cult would deserve a little more respect than I currently grant it if it devoted more of its vast wealth, between $500 million and $5 billion depending whose figures you accept, to helping the vulnerable, rather than trying to interfere in national politics in this kind of way.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Just because there’s more people participating in it and they have more influence in the world, past and present, doesn’t make the Catholic Church any less of a cult.

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    “He’s a Yank – and unlike me, he has no right.”

    Stan, I’ve always said that if anyone’s going to criticize my country, they should have lived there for at least three years, been paying American taxes, and be a formal resident.
    I am a formal British resident. I have working and living rights here. I’ve lived here for eight years and paid my taxes. I have every right to say about this country what I will.
    You yourself, Stan, once mentioned the dangerous ghetto culture in Britain, the impermeability of the inner cities. So you know what the problem is. You know how it’s spreading like a cancer across this land. Yet, I have no right to speak my fears about this simply because I wasn’t born here.
    And, if you’re an Aussie, what natural right do you have to criticize “Pommyland” if you so desired? You are aware that Australians so often get the third degree from immigration authorities? I know, I’ve witnessed it many times.
    I’ve said it before, Stan, and I’ll say it again. Please always wear a hat in that bright antipodean sun, for I think it’s affecting you.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Stan,

    Mark lives in the UK. You may have been born there, and may have citizenship there, but Mark is a just a bit closer to the action than you are.

    What has me puzzled is why you are attacking him at all. He is defending the stance of YOUR church! Has someone been pissing in your beer, or something?

    If you want to go after me for expressing my views on the matter, I can understand that. I do not live anywhere near England and have no desire to. In fact, a letter from their Home Secretary banning me from Albion’s precincts as they did Moshe Feiglin would be a rather valuable addition to my trash pile. It’s always better to have first class garbage with the insignia of Queen Lizzy, the Defender of What Faith? than something from the Judas Pizza Parlour at the local shopping mall hustling a family sized pizza for just thirty pieces of silver shekels.

    In fact, now that I think about it, such a letter might actually net me some money; I’d have a reason to professionally fund-raise in the North America (maybe even in Australia) complaining about the British double standard in banning Jews while admitting known Arab terrorists.

    From Frontpage Magazine.com – by Dan Rabkin

    “The Home Secretary has considered whether, in light of this list, you should be excluded from the United Kingdom. After careful consideration, she has personally directed that you should be excluded from the United Kingdom…”

    British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who heads the ministry responsible for counter-terrorism, recently sent the above quoted letter to a recipient in the Middle East. It is worrying
    to realize who the recipient was and what that implies about Britain’s role in the global struggle against radical Islam.

    Was it sent to a Hezbollah official in Lebanon or Iran? Not a chance; “Army of Allah” officials are always welcome guests in the UK. Ibrahim Moussawi, Hezbollah’s chief propagandist, recently concluded a British “speaking tour” with no objections
    from Ms. Smith’s Home Office.

    Perhaps it was sent to a radical imam or cleric somewhere in the Gulf? Wrong again; Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi was successfully granted a visa five out of the last six times that he has applied. Al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated cleric, is known for praising terrorist attacks against Israelis and Americans, calling for the destruction of Israel, and stating that homosexuals should “be put to death”. During his last trip to Britain, where he chaired the annual meeting of the European Council of Fatwa and Research at London’s City Hall, London mayor Ken Livingston compared him to the Pope.

    Shamefully, this letter was sent to a politician in the Jewish State. Moshe Feiglin, the head of the Jewish Leadership faction within the Likud party…..

    I gotta pay the bills somehow, Stan….

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    “Mark lives in the UK. You may have been born there, and may have citizenship there, but Mark is a just a bit closer to the action than you are.”

    Thank you, Ruvy. Exactly so. I think Stan just likes to bust my Yankee balls. Stan would probably say that you have no right to criticize Israel since you’re originally an American, even though Israel’s your home now. He’d probably tell you that he has mates in Tel Aviv who would offer to pay to send you back to New York in a heartbeat. Eh, Stan?
    Stan doesn’t seem to care at all that I came over here for my wife. She can’t move to America because she’s a diabetic and she knows that the American health care system (which I disagree with) would cost her a fortune, so I stay here for her sake. Because I am an official British resident, working here and paying British taxes, I have the right to say whatever I goddamn well please about Britain. I would defend anyone’s right to say the same about America, as long as they were in the position I am in now, having paid years’ worth of taxes and lived there for more than three years.
    It’s easy for those lounging in the sun to tell us living in dangerous areas how to live, isn’t it. Ruvy, eh?

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    Mark, for what it’s worth, I think Ruvy’s line about people only having the right to opine about countries to which they belong is complete rubbish.

    Given the number of times he breaks this “rule” himself anyway, it’s obvious it is just another of the egocentric tricks he uses to try and stifle debate about what goes on in Israel.

    The bottom line is we’re all humans living on the same planet and everything that goes on here is up for discussion.

    In that spirit, I must say I was more than a little surprised at your comparison of life in the UK with that in Israel!

  • Baronius

    I’ve heard that British scientists have created an embryo with cow and human DNA. Deano, where is the less-regulated part of the world where human life is treated with less care?

  • STM

    Hey, calm down boys :)

    Yes, as much as I love to rag the Poms, and find some things about British society rather distasteful, I do believe they have contributed a huge amount to molding a good world for the most part.

    I admire their thinking about social justice, and their determination to see it through, in a society that until a century ago was not just riddled with class prejudice (like it is now) but based upon it.

    But a lot of me ragging Mark is just a gee-up … I hope he knows that.

    Sometimes I do have a hankering to return to the UK for short periods (and have, and will continue to do so whenever the opportunity arises), but no desire to live there, although having gone to school in England as a kid, I do have fond memories.

    Like I say, if I couldn’t live here, it’d be NZ (shame about all the sheep), Britain (shame about the weather) or the US (only the sunny bits).

    I am not opposing Mark’s view on the issue, simply his comment that Britain and the British have reached some kind of overall moral nadir comparable to the collapse of the Roman Empire – a notion I don’t agree with at all.

    And unbeknownst to most Americans, ALL Australians have a birthright bestowed upon them by all and sundry, including the poms, and especially God, to slag off poms at any opportunity. Likewise, they are free to slag us off whenever they want (and they do).

    It is actually un-Australian not to :)

    What would be the point of them being The hated Auld Enemy and us being theirs if all that weren’t the case?? Hate’s maybe too strong a word – love to hate might be a better term.

    Would it just be wasted energy over the years? Heaven forbid … yet I think you have to be one of us to understand this, however.

    This place is chock-a-block with people from the old country (countries) at the moment, with most of our recent immigrants coming from Britain.

    Just wait ’til their kids start calling them Pommy bastards.