"Respect for the religious beliefs of those who have fundamental concerns means we will have a free vote on the three new ethical issues on which the House has not previously taken a view: on whether admixed embryos are permitted within strict constraints; on the question of permitting 'saviour siblings' (who could, for example, donate blood) in the context of rare genetic conditions; and on changing the IVF requirements to require the need for supportive parenting to be taken into account."
So reads the Prime Minister's compromise, following warnings that some Catholic Labour MPs and cabinet ministers were ready to rebel over the Government's proposed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. However, his carefully chosen language rather obscures some fundamental issues that the leader of Scotland's Catholic Church Cardinal Keith O'Brien described in his Easter sermon as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life."
1. On "admixed embryos"
Gordon Brown explains that the purpose behind allowing the creation of "human admixed embryos"—that is, human-animal hybrid embryos— is the limited availability of human eggs from which to create embryos for research. He repeatedly insists that such cells contain "overwhelmingly human DNA" and "only minuscule amounts of animal DNA" as though that will somehow alleviate concerns over human dignity.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister fails to explain that serious scientific reservations remain over the actual possible usefulness of these "interspecies entities". For instance, in a report entitled The New Inter-Species Future?, scientists noted that the scientific merit and validity of experiments already undertaken (involving cow-human and rabbit-human hybrid embryos) have yet to be confirmed by an independent research group repeating the procedures. Among its other concerns, the BioCentre report warned of the considerable medical risks associated with implanting cells that contain a combination of animal and human mitochondrial DNA and human nuclear DNA, especially given that mitochondrial dysfunction has been shown to be a key factor in many of the neurodegenerative diseases claimed to be treatable by therapeutic cloning, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The Prime Minister is therefore being misleading when he suggests that allowing the creation of human-nonhuman cybrids will lead to "future cures and treatments which will save many lives."
2. On "saviour siblings"
The proposal to allow parents to create so-called "saviour siblings" in an attempt to treat older brothers and sisters with "rare genetic conditions" sounds like an act of compassion. However, it raises serious questions about how we and society view people with non-life-threatening conditions. Do they actually need "saving"? How do we evaluate quality of life? And is it really a valid measure of the value of life? Moreover, is this not just another step towards the creation of "designer babies"?
3. On "the need for supportive parenting"
Again, who would dare challenge the need for "supportive parenting"? But this is mere Orwellian NewSpeak for "same sex parenting" and "fatherless families"! For the bill proposes omitting the requirement for a father in the granting of an IVF licence, allowing children to be born who are deliberately prevented by law from having any legal father. At a time when evidence is growing of the detrimental impact of fatherlessness and that a child's parenting needs are best met by the presence of a mother and a father, this provision blatantly sacrifices the interests of children in preference to those of adults in a same sex relationship.
I have to conclude that Gordon Brown is mistaken when he suggests that these measures are "vital to the progression of stem cell research" that could "save and improve the lives of thousands and over time millions of people." Instead, we should follow the lead of Professor Ian Wilmut, the leading cloning scientist who controversially created Dolly the sheep, who has abandoned the use of embryonic cells in favour of an alternative method that he says has greater potential for stem cell research.