Em­bryo ban de­feat riles pro-life Bri­tons

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Al Webb

LON­DON — Re­li­gious lead­ers and pro-life cam­paign­ers have an­grily at­tacked the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment for its re­fusal to ban the cre­ation of an­i­mal-hu­man em­bryos and so-called “sav­ior sib­lings” — re­search de­scribed by one Ro­man Catholic car­di­nal as a form of “Franken­stein” science.

Gov­ern­ment forces in the House of Com­mons on May 20 drove back at­tempts to de­rail what some re­searchers de­scribed as the big­gest shake-up in nearly two decades of laws gov­ern­ing sen­si­tive sci­en­tific work in ar­eas such as stem-cell re­search.

By a vote of 342-163, Par­lia­ment crushed one key amend­ment to Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown’s Hu­man Em­bry­ol­ogy and Fer­til­iza­tion Bill that was aimed at stop­ping the use of “hy­brid” hu­man-an­i­mal em­bryos in stem-cell re­search.

The Brown ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­cepted claims by many lead­ing sci­en­tists that such “hu­man ad­mixed em­bryos” are vi­tal to the quest for cures for dis­eases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkin­son’s, which the prime min­is­ter con­sid­ers a key el­e­ment of his em­bryo leg­is­la­tion.

Car­di­nal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scot­land’s Ro­man Catholics, de­nounced Mr. Brown’s stance with fury. He called re­search into hy­brid em­bryos a “hideous” con­cept in­volv­ing ex­per­i­ments of “Franken­stein pro­por­tion.”

Such hy­brid em­bryos are cre­ated by in­sert­ing the nu­clei of a hu­man cell into an an­i­mal egg, thus pro­duc­ing, sci­en­tists say, a boun­ti­ful sup­ply of stem cells for their re­search.

Car­di­nal O’Brien and other Bri­tish re­li­gious stal­warts and pro-lif­ers also were dis­mayed that Par­lia­ment de­feated, also by a 342-163 vote, an amend­ment to the em­bry­ol­ogy bill that aimed to ban “sav­ior sib­lings” — chil­dren cre­ated as close ge­netic matches that could be used to treat an ail­ing sis­ter or brother.

A group of Catholic lead­ers headed by Car­di­nal O’Brien at- tacked the gov­ern­ment for push­ing through the em­bryo leg­is­la­tion with­out ad­e­quately con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tives to what they con­sider an un­eth­i­cal sci­en­tific method.

“Not nearly enough time has been given to dis­cussing th­ese is­sues,” the car­di­nals said in a joint state­ment, “and th­ese ques­tions re­quire an­swers be­fore and not af­ter leg­is­la­tion.”

They sug­gested an eth­i­cally ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive in the “much greater progress [that] has al­ready been made to­ward clin­i­cal ther­a­pies us­ing adult stem cells,” and in­sisted that “other emerg­ing tech­niques hold po­ten­tial for good, with­out cre­at­ing and de­stroy­ing hu­man em­bryos.”

The Is­lamic Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (IMS), which rep­re­sents more than 2 mil­lion Mus­lims in Bri­tain, stepped into the fray by con­demn­ing the em­bry­ol­ogy and fer­til­iza­tion bill.

“For re­li­gious, eth­i­cal, hu­mane, fam­ily and so­cial rea­sons,” said IMS spokesman Ma­jid Katme, “Bri­tish Mus­lims will fully sup­port our Catholic and Chris­tian friends in their op­po­si­tion to this dread­ful bill.”

Three Catholic mem­bers of Mr. Brown’s Cabi­net, in­clud­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Des Browne, voted for a ban on hy­brid em­bryos, prompt­ing Ian Lu­cas, co-co­or­di­na­tor of the Pas­sion for Life Cam­paign, to sug­gest that the prime min­is­ter was “not re­spect­ing the con­science” of his own La­bor mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.

Mr. Lu­cas, whose pro-life group is lob­by­ing against parts of the em­bry­ol­ogy bill, said the prime min­is­ter, whose pub­lic pop­u­lar­ity has hit its low­est ebb, “will sway quite a few votes by do­ing this.”

Mr. Brown, bat­tling to get his Hu­man Em­bry­ol­ogy and Fer­til­iza­tion Bill through Par­lia­ment with as lit­tle dam­age as pos­si­ble, in­sisted that “we owe it to our­selves and our fu­ture gen­er­a­tion to in­tro­duce th­ese mea­sures, and [. . . ] to give our un­equiv­o­cal back­ing within the right frame­work of rules and stan­dards to stem-cell re­search.”

De­spite the vo­cal op­po­si­tion out­side and oc­ca­sion­ally inside Par­lia­ment, Mr. Brown’s bill is ex­pected to pass with rel­a­tive ease.

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