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Prolifers and the status of the embryo - Why the change of heart?

25 November 2004
By Teena Chowdhury
LLB - law
Appeared in BioNews 286
The ProLife Alliance has sought to challenge the legality of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)'s decision to grant a cloning licence to the Newcastle Human Embryonic Stem Cell Group. In a statement, the Alliance said that: 'It has been erroneously reported that the licence will further research into certain diseases. However the licence that has been granted does not include research into any specified disease.' Quite simply, the research is not at the stage of contributing to knowledge of a specific disease, however, in five years the group hope to undertake clinical trials.

This is the second challenge by the ProLife Alliance against the HFEA. Three years ago the ProLifers challenged regulations passed in 2001, allowing the use of embryos in stem cell research aimed at treating diseases. The Lawlords stated that when situations arose before a court, which Parliament could not consider at the time the Act was passed, the court must consider whether it fell within Parliamentary intent. The purpose of the legislation would be fulfilled if it were interpreted to include the new situation. Indeed, the Newcastle research does not strictly speaking fall within the scope of the Regulations, although Parliamentary debates at the time of the passing of the Act evidences that it was intended for the Courts to interpret the regulations purposively, so the Courts will hopefully endorse the HFEA's decision.

I say 'hopefully' because although the ProLifers argue that, 'human cloning is profoundly unethical' I would argue that it is profoundly unethical to fail to endorse therapeutic cloning. The ethical objection of the ProLifers lies in the use of the embryo as a research subject. They argue that life begins at conception, thus cloning is the use of a living being as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. However, the numbers of those that stand to benefit, whose suffering might be alleviated, whose lives might be lengthened is large, larger than those who would seek to inhibit the research.

Millions of embryos are destroyed every day by those attempting to reproduce sexually, because of the body's natural biological processes which discard embryos that have or are likely to have abnormalities. What is the difference between these embryos and ones used in research? Prolifers have never mentioned embryos lots 'naturally' - they simply did not seem to care about embryos previous to advances in cloning techniques, so why the change of heart?

Lobbying against therapeutic cloning seems to re-enforce anti-abortion views. Perhaps it is hoped that if a court will find it unacceptable to research on a 14-day-old embryo, then it will become unacceptable to abort a fetus. If it can become considered a legal wrong to research on a days-old embryo then the fetus about to be aborted must have an even more special status, and must be protected too. This is an unlikely result since abortion laws have sat quite comfortably with the courts for the past 38 years. It does however seriously question whether the ProLife Alliance have a place in the cloning debate at all, since they enter the discussion and the courts with quite a unique agenda.

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Opponents of research cloning have served an application for a judicial review on the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), over its decision to issue the first licence granting permission to create cloned human embryos. The HFEA issued the licence in August 2004, to Newcastle University researchers working on...
19 November 2004 - by BioNews 
Opponents of research cloning have served an application for a judicial review on the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), over its decision to issue the first licence granting permission to create cloned human embryos. The HFEA issued the licence in August 2004, to Newcastle University researchers working on...
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