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Roman Catholic Bishops say hybrid embryos have right to life

4 July 2007
Appeared in BioNews 414

The Roman Catholic Bishops of England (RCBE) have told the UK parliament that inter-species embryos - those containing genetic information from both human and animals - should not be treated any differently from 'normal' embryos, and that women should be given the chance to carry their genetic offspring to term.

There is currently a real shortage of human eggs for use in embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. It is hoped the problem can be overcome through creating embryos by transferring human genetic material into 'hollowed out' animal eggs. The resulting entity - a 'cybrid' - would be over 99 per cent genetically human and less than one per cent animal. As it stands, the new draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill will ban the creation of embryos that contain genetic material from both animals and humans, but will make an exception for certain types of research, including cybrid embryos. The draft Bill imposes a strict 14 day time limit on the use of these entities in research, at which point they must be destroyed.

The RCBE and the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics told the parliamentary committee who are scrutinising the draft Bill: 'At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly. In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the women providing the ovum (egg), in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them'.

The RCBE have been accused of misunderstanding the science involved in creating such embryos. Cybrid embryos will have no 'mother'; rather, an animal ovum will be stripped of its genetic identity and used as an empty vessel to cultivate human ES cells from cloned human cells. It is hoped that such research will lead to advances in treatment for devastating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Liberal Democrat MP, Dr Evan Harris, has described the RCBE's position as 'absurd' and 'inconsistent', adding: 'Most of these embryos will be created using animal eggs, but even if they were created using human eggs, they would be created by cloning and the Catholic Church has previously opposed reproductive cloning of even fully human embryos'.

Chimera embryos have right to life, say bishops
The Daily Telegraph |  27 June 2007
6 August 2007 - by Dr Mark Hamilton 
Last week saw the publication of the UK parliamentary report of the Joint Committee on the Human Tissue and Embryos (Draft) Bill. The government is now tasked to respond over the next two months in time for the Bill to be included in the Queen's Speech in November. Certain key...
19 June 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's Academy of Medical Sciences has backed the creation of human-animal embryos for use in stem cell research, which is says should be subject to the same rules as research on human embryos, including the 14-day rule and a ban on implanting embryos into a...
30 April 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a public consultation on whether research using human-animal hybrid embryos should be allowed. A public meeting is planned in June, at which interested parties, scientists and members of the public can discuss the issue, and a survey...
10 April 2007 - by Dr John Gillott 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's report, 'Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos', is its response to two related events: firstly the UK Government's intention to outlaw the creation of such entities, announced in December 2006 in its White Paper (1), and secondly the...
10 April 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has challenged the UK Government's decision to propose a ban on the creation of hybrid or chimera embryos, calling such a move 'unnecessary'. In the report, the MPs said: 'We find that the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid...
19 February 2007 - by Khadija Ibrahim 
The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has given its backing to the creation of animal-human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes. The Government advisory body made the announcement at their most recent plenary meeting, in response to the current debate about whether research that involves the mixing...
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