05 March 2008
ByAppeared in BioNews 447
This week, three Catholic Cabinet ministers in the UK have threatened to quit their posts following government proposals to allow the creation of hybrid embryos - embryos made using animal eggs that have their nuclei replaced with human genetic material, for use in stem cell research. The MPs have been named as Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, Defence Secretary Des Browne and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy.
The Daily Mirror newspaper reported that Ms Kelly has links with Opus Dei and Mr Murphy is a member of the all-party pro-life group. A friend of Mr Browne said: 'Des normally comes down on the side of the team rather than the individual, but this is religion'. The backlash came as parliament began the debate on The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill 2007. The Bill is intended to update the regulation of assisted reproduction and embryo research (primarily by amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990), to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Six other ministers, six Parliamentary Private Secretaries and a number of whips have also been rumoured to resign over the Bill, sparking fears of a major blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government.
Issues such as giving the go-ahead for the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos have raised a number of social and religious concerns. One MP commented that 'a lot of negotiating is going on. But at the moment we're walking into disaster'. Whilst ministers who object to the proposals could abstain from attending the vote, which is due to be held after Easter, they argue that they should be allowed to vote 'with their conscience' for changes to the legislation. But scientists believe that the creation and use of hybrids is essential to the progression of medical science and is necessary to keep Britain at the forefront of scientific research. They want to use the hybrids to 'grow' embryonic stem cell (ES cell) lines for the purpose of research into diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease, Huntington's Disease and motor neurone disease. But opponents of the move claim scientists are 'playing the sorcerer's apprentice', and that pro-life groups are considering a legal challenge.