The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, has sent a pastoral message urging Catholics to write to MPs in opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons in the coming weeks. In his message, the cardinal wrote that: 'Many people of all faiths and none are deeply concerned by the moral questions raised by this Bill', adding, 'taking action on this pressing issue now helps to remind us that our Christian witness can never just be personal but involves us too as citizens committed to serving the common good of society and to upholding the human dignity of all'.
Most Catholics are against using human embryos in research and have expressed widespread opposition to the Bill. The Church has also expressed its concern that the Bill presents a threat to the importance of the father in the upbringing of a child. Catholic MPs have called upon the Prime Minister to permit them to vote according to their conscience when the Bill reaches the Commons.
The Government-backed Bill contains proposals that extend embryo research in the UK to allow scientists to create embryos containing both animal and human genetic material for research. The Bill will also permit both partners in a same-sex civil partnership to be named as legal parents on a child's birth certificate and will remove the current need for IVF clinics to take into account the child's need for a father.
Meanwhile, embryos have been granted legal personhood under French law after the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeals court, ruled earlier this month that three couples could register their miscarried fetuses to enable them to give the embryos an official burial. To be placed on the civil registry, an embryo must be under the age of 22 weeks and weigh under 500g.
The decision has been supported by French Catholics, who believe life begins from the moment of conception. 'The Church's position is that we must act as if the embryo were a person', said the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois. 'This means that a fetus has a status,' he said commenting on the ruling, 'what has happened in the past 50 years is that the legal status of the embryo and fetus has been rapidly changed. They have been turned into things'. But abortion proponents have expressed caution that the decision will give impetus to pro-life campaigners, although it is believed the ruling will not affect France's abortion law.