May 28, 2024

Hybrid embryos: nice, but not necessary, says expert

British Parliament debates fertility legislation

Once again, bioethics is on centre stage in the British Parliament as the House of Commons debates a revision of its fertility legislation. This contains a large number of highly controversial proposals. The three best-known would allow the human-animal hybrids for research and the use of saviour siblings in IVF treatment and would abolish the need for a father in eligibility for IVF treatment. On these three government MPs will be allowed a conscience vote. However, there are other troubling proposals, such as the creation of genetically modified human embryos. The transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, has given Prime Minister Gordon Brown notice that she will not support the bill. It is highly unusual for a minister to rebel against her boss.

Labour rebels have been heartened by remarks by Lord Robert Winston, one of the world’s leading figures in IVF, about the bill. He says that he is unhappy about the creation of saviour siblings and that the creation of hybrids is not necessary. "It’s a nice adjunct, a useful extra. But if we don’t have that resource, it won’t fundamentally alter the science of stem cell biology."

The volatile element of religion has been added to the fiery debate. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, compared the creation of embryos for research to rape and torture: "A human person, an individual body with feelings and thoughts, needs to be treated, as we sometimes say, as an end in itself, not a tool for someone else’s agenda. So we condemn rape, torture and blackmail. We don’t allow experiments on people’s bodies or minds without their consent. And we don’t breed human individuals to create a pool of organs that could be transplanted to save the lives of others."

And the head of the HFEA attacked the Catholic Church’s intransigence on the destruction of embryos. Its chairwoman, Lisa Jardine, said that there was a "fatal impediment" in Catholic teaching. Not only is it opposed to hybrid research, she complained, it is opposed to all embryonic research. ~ Times, May 11